All Things Feet: The Gross Beauty Issues You Need To Know & How To Fix 'Em

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Too often, our feet end up being our last priority. But, we put them through so much — running for the train, waiting in line at Trader Joe's, teetering in heels at cocktail parties — that we should really treat them a little better.

“People should take care of their feet the way they do of their faces,” says Jason Ahuero, MD, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor College of Medicine. “They need daily washing, moisturizing, and inspection.”

To make sure your feet are ready to show off come summer, we talked to experts about the most frustrating (and unattractive) foot problems. Ahead, find solutions to dealing with everything from corns to bunions to fungus. It's time to learn how to give your feet some TLC — and give yourself a good reason to go shoe-shopping.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Corns
Naming medical issues after food is a whole separate problem, but when it comes to your feet, corns can be painful and give your toes a knobby, lumpy appearance.

Corns are a result of hyperkeratosis, a protective layer of keratin that creates thickened skin over areas suffering chronic irritation, explains Steven Sheskier, MD, a clinical assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Corns are a way to protect underlying bone and flesh, but they eventually become excessively thick,” he says.

Skin can thicken as a result of footwear that doesn’t fit properly. “The shape of some shoes makes wearing them like fitting a square peg in a round hole,” Dr. Sheskier says. “Women’s shoes often have a tight fit in order to stay on, so there’s rubbing on pressure points.” One solution — big surprise — is to buy shoes that fit and feel comfortable right out of the box. “There’s no such thing as ‘breaking in’ a shoe,” Dr. Sheskier says. “What you’re really doing is stretching the shoe with your foot, which injures your foot.” If those perfect pumps feel snug, you can also take them to be professionally stretched.

If you've already got corns, Dr. Sheskier recommends applying mineral oil to them at night to soften the skin. Your favorite facial oil could also double as a corn treatment. Try Boots Botanics Facial Oil. You can also gently buff corns with a pumice stone or scrub, like Fig + Yarrow's Alpine Pumice Foot Treatment, in the shower.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Bunions
Technically called hallux valgus, a bunion usually forms as a result of your big toe being forced to bend in the direction of the other toes. The pressure causes a bony bump to form at the base of the big toe. (If there’s one on your little toe, it’s called a bunionette — how cute.) “Bunions start as a cosmetic [issue] with little discomfort, but they usually progress and become so painful that surgery is necessary,” Dr. Ahuero says.

The best prevention is to avoid shoes with narrow, pointy toes. Before your ability to walk is impaired, Dr. Ahuero suggests laying off the heels, too. “Treat heels as a luxury item, not something to wear on a daily basis,” he says.

Dr. Ahuero says you can’t reverse a bunion without surgery, but you can slow down the progression with toe separators when you’re not in your stilettos. Or, embrace those Birkenstocks.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Fungus
Developing a fungus, which is exactly what it sounds like — a growth of fungus that lives in the toenail — is surprisingly easy. “I see more cases of foot fungus these days because people are much more active, having more pedicures, and spending more time at spas — giving fungus more opportunities,” says Suzanne Levine, DPM, a New York City podiatric surgeon and author of My Feet Are Killing Me. “If you’re in a walking city, that adds another layer of exposure.”

Aside from the unappealing connotation to the name, foot fungus is especially problematic because it’s so difficult to treat. “There’s no treatment in 2015 that’s guaranteed to work,” Dr. Ahuero says.

But, before you panic, see a dermatologist or podiatrist right away to confirm that you actually have a fungus. If one or two nails are thickened or lifting from the nail bed, fungus is likely the culprit. If all your nails have an irregular appearance, this could be one of a few other conditions, Dr. Sheskier explains. You don’t want to waste time on over-the-counter treatments that may not be effective for you.

Your doctor may prescribe an anti-fungal medication to kill it, but since it lives in the nail, you have to continue the treatment for six months or more as you wait for the infected part of the nail to grow out. Dr. Levine uses a laser to zap the fungus in about three treatments and usually sees results within a month. Some research has shown that applying Vicks VapoRub to the affected nail may improve the condition and, in some cases, cure it.

Preventing exposure is the best course of action. Wear moisture-wicking socks and get out of sweaty shoes as soon as possible; make sure you’re going to a clean nail salon, because the jets in the pedicure tubs can harbor fungus; wear flip-flops in any public shower; and, don’t wear flip-flops or any sandals that let your feet come into contact with grime on city streets.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Cracked Skin
Many of us can relate to having a problem with cracked feet. With all the pressure they take during walking and the lack of oil glands, the skin becomes dry and stretched, and splits. “The risk with cracks is that they can be portals for infection,” Dr. Ahuero says. “It’s worth seeing your primary-care doctor if you’re having severe problems with drying and cracking.”

For thick skin with deep fissures, Dr. Levine suggests coating your feet in a lotion containing urea like Kerasal Ultra 20 foot cream, covering each foot in a plastic baggie, putting on socks, and leaving the whole thing on for an hour. The urea helps slough off the thick surface cells, so the moisturizer can penetrate.

Give your feet an exfoliating treatment at least once a week, suggests Donna Perillo, owner of Sweet Lily Spa in New York City. “Use a moisturizer, like olive oil or shea butter, mixed with exfoliating sugar crystals,” she says. Try Sweet Lily Hand & Foot Scrub. And, when you shower, use a pumice stone or file like Diamancel Foot Buffer #11. Stay away from razors and cutting tools on your feet, or you risk creating deeper wounds.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Sweaty Feet
If you’re already prone to excessive sweating, wearing shoes is like keeping your feet in a sauna all day. Also known as hyperhidrosis, excessive sweating can actually create puddles in your shoes. As if that isn’t annoying enough, bacteria like the damp, warm environment in your shoes, which can cause you to develop a strong foot odor.

“Lots of people — not just those with hyperhidrosis — come in because they’re experiencing excessive perspiration in the summer months,” Dr. Levine says. She often suggests injections of Botox, or one of the similar neurotoxins, to paralyze the nerve endings in the feet that cause sweating. The results can last up to a year and will cause significant improvement, she says.

You can also opt for a less drastic sweat-stopping measure. Just as antiperspirant works on your armpits, it can work on your soles. Dr. Levine suggests looking for one with aluminum chloride hexahydrate, such as Certain Dri. You apply it to the bottoms of your feet and let it dry. Dusting the insides of your shoes with a moisture-absorbing powder can also help keep them dry. Try Gold Bond's Medicated Foot Powder.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Blisters
Sometimes, those deceptively comfortable ballet flats turn into instruments of torture 30 minutes after you’ve left the house, and all you can do is wait for the inevitable blister to form.

When shoes don’t fit properly, you end up causing friction against your skin. Your body creates a blister to serve as a buffer. So, obviously, make sure your shoes fit. The second line of defense is moisture, Dr. Levine says. “Moisture helps prevent the friction that causes blisters.” Keep skin hydrated with Payot Le Corps Cooling Powdered Foot Gel, which leaves a silky powder finish.

If you feel a blister forming, rub a waxy lip balm over the spot or keep Band-Aid Active Friction Block Stick handy to treat friction.

Once you’ve developed a blister, you’re going to have to give it time to heal. Ideally, you shouldn’t pop it — but, we know it’s nearly impossible to resist that urge. “Treat it like a surgical procedure,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Here’s his method for popping a blister: Clean feet and fingers with soap and water, and use rubbing alcohol to sterilize your skin. Grab a safety pin. Poke the blister once, and then gently apply downward pressure to release the fluid. Leave the “roof,” or top layer, of skin intact. “That skin acts like a biological Band-Aid to protect the raw skin below and prevents infection,” he says. Apply antibiotic ointment and put a Band-Aid over the area to prevent infection.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Ingrown Nails
When the edge of your toenail grows into the skin around it, you end up with a painful ingrown. “When nails are clipped improperly or your shoes or socks are too snug, you end up with an ingrown,” Perillo says. In some cases, the surrounding tissue becomes swollen and infected, making removal feel like a root canal for your feet.

Prevention is simple enough: File your nails with rounded corners, so they can’t penetrate the surrounding skin as they grow out. “A pedicurist can gently lift the corner of the nail to alleviate a bit of pressure," Perillo says. “But, if there are any signs of infection, you should see a podiatrist who can extract the nail.”

If an ingrown has just started, soak your feet to soften the skin and then use a sterilized tool, like Revlon Ingrown Away, to gently lift the edge before cutting it.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Too Long Nails
This is a problem entirely within your control. We should keep our toenails short for medical reasons, if aesthetic reasons aren’t enough motivation. As your nails get long, they lift from the nail bed. This can put you at risk for some seriously painful — and disgusting — problems.

“Long toenails can crack, break, and separate from the nail bed,” Dr. Zeichner warns. “If this happens, you can develop an infection of the skin and nail itself, including fungus and bacterial soft-tissue infections.”

Invest in a sturdy clipper, like the Tweezerman Regency Finish Clipper, and use it regularly.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
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