Did Winter Eff Up Your Feet? Here's How To Fix 'Em

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
There's no tiptoeing around the fact that feet aren't exactly the most appealing part of the body. Sure, we can conceal 'em with socks in the colder months. But, come summer, all bets are off — there's no place for our blisters, calluses, and cracked heels to hide on those crazy-hot days when only sandals will suffice.
So, in an effort to put our best foot forward in the weeks and months ahead, we're tackling these not-so-pleasant problems head on. We called in New York-based podiatrist Dr. Hillary Brenner to deliver the official word on alleviating everything from itchy feet to yellowing nails. Because, sometimes, a pedi just isn't going to cut it.
Read on for the fixes to your most cringe-worthy foot issues.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Oh, calluses. You embarrass us at the nail salon and make it not so pleasant for our partners if they rub up against our feet under the sheets. But, according to Dr. Brenner, there's hope both in terms of prevention and treatment. For one, calluses won't plague you in the first place if you're wearing proper, supportive footwear; it's the friction caused by barely-there sandals and not-so-supportive straps that cause callus buildup, says Dr. Brenner.

So, assuming you're not game to ditch your entire summer shoe wardrobe, what can you do? For seriously callused feet, Dr. Brenner suggests a visit to the podiatrist. A quick, painless, in-office chemical foot peel is like a pedicure on steroids. But, for those wary of a medical-grade treatment, Dr. Brenner calls Baby Foot, a one-time-use exfoliator, a "great alternative." It's a peel in every sense of the word: After the initial treatment, the outermost layer of skin on the soles of your feet will start to lift away over the course of a week, revealing a soft, smooth, baby-like layer of skin underneath. (We told you it was weird.)
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
As if sweaty armpits aren't bad enough, come summer, feet get in on the action, too. We don't have to tell you that foot sweat is caused by heat, humidity, and moisture retention (which can cause problems if your tootsies are trapped in heavy socks or shoes any time of the year). But, other than slippery sandals, are there any real issues associated with foot sweat? Yes, says Dr. Brenner: Sweaty feet harbor odor and create a natural breeding ground for fungus.

But, where to turn when your feet feel like a faucet? Good old Epsom salt, says Dr. Brenner. A 20-minute soak three times a week not only keeps your nails in tip-top shape, but it alleviates sweating, too. Pair it with products like deodorizing shoe spray or neutralizing powder, and you should see a difference in the sweat being produced by your feet. In a pinch, Dr. Brenner recommends using a standard spray deodorant on your soles. She always warns against wearing the same shoes every day. Like your feet, they, too, need some time to breathe.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Yellow Toenails
Perhaps no foot problem is quite as ick-inducing as yellowing nails. As for the cause? According to Dr. Brenner, the source of discoloration can be as innocent as nail polish or as gross as a fungal infection. If the former is the issue, Dr. Brenner advises opting for chemical-free polishes, as it's the formaldehyde in some traditional formulas that triggers a yellow tinge.

But, if the discoloration is the result of something more serious like a fungus, you'll know it: Dr. Brenner notes that infected nails often appear unnaturally thick. Though serious cases certainly require the expertise of a medical professional, Dr. Brenner is an advocate for at-home Epsom-salt foot soaks as a low-cost, natural alternative. She suggests bathing feet for 20 minutes at a time, roughly three times a week. Soaking nails in a mixture of equal parts water and lemon juice can also do the trick for tackling discoloration.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
We've been getting blisters ever since we stepped into our first pair of heels. The product of friction, they often occur as a result of half-size-too-big or -too-small shoes. But, says Dr. Brenner, blisters may be a sign of more than just ill-fitting footwear: "Hydrated skin doesn't break down [in the face of friction] as easily as dry skin does." That's why she suggests coating feet with a thick, moisturizing cream on a regular basis. Shea butter or an over-the-counter urea cream provide a mega-dose of hydration, particularly when allowed to saturate the skin overnight.

If you should find yourself nursing a blister, however, Dr. Brenner favors moleskin bandages over traditional Band-Aids to sooth and protect the affected area.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Stinky Feet
Foot odor and sweat are closely related — and we're betting the reason why will be the grossest thing you read all day. "When our feet sweat, our socks and shoes become very moist, which breeds bacteria," says Dr. Brenner. "The bacteria actually eat the sweat and then excrete a very foul-smelling waste, which causes foot odor." File that under things you could've lived without knowing, eh?

That said, to treat foot sweat is to treat foot odor — and vice versa. However, a chemical peel can create a blank canvas, so to speak. "By shedding the top layer of skin, you're attacking the bacteria where they live," says Dr. Brenner. As such, they won't be around to digest and, um, excrete your sweat.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
If selfie is in the dictionary, we think toebesity should be, too — it's the phrase that best describes our swollen summertime toes and feet. Turns out we're not alone in our complaints: Dr. Brenner sees a seasonal increase in swelling among her patients. Besides the hot temps and the humidity factor, Dr. Brenner views both diet and improper footwear as the prime culprits when it comes to enlarged feet.

So, what can you do? In addition to cutting back on salty foods and drinking plenty of water, Dr. Brenner suggests opting for supportive shoes — as in, save those flip-flops for the beach. "In the summer, we tend to live in our flip-flops," says Dr. Brenner. "But, in reality, they provide no shock absorption, no cushion for the foot." A shoe that provides a supportive structure on which the foot may rest can physically prevent your feet from swelling, as excess fluids will essentially have no place to land.

And, side note: If you're traveling by plane at all this summer, Dr. Brenner suggests sporting a pair of knee-high compression socks, which promote blood flow and, in turn, prevent swelling (and other more serious issues like blood clots) over long stretches of time. Glamorous they are not, but proper circulation is worthy of a fashion exception.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
If you've got itchy feet, there may be a couple of different issues at play. "Itchiness may be a sign of a fungal infection," says Dr. Brenner. If your condition is extreme, get yourself to a podiatrist — stat. But, if you're only feeling a slight to mild itching sensation, you can go the at-home route with an antifungal wash. Available for around $15, it's an over-the-counter product that keeps germs at bay, washing away bacteria and fungus from the surface of the skin. In this case, don't opt for a cream formulation: It's actually too moist and fosters further infection.

But, before you buy antifungal wash by the bucketful, ask yourself this: Are you properly protecting your feet from the sun? The itchiness you're feeling may be a result of overexposure, similar to the aftereffects of a sunburn. In this case, you'll likely find relief with a standard moisturizer. But, take heed: Dr. Brenner is quick to note the importance of applying sunscreen on toes and tops of feet.
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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Cracked Heels
Cracked heels are both physically painful and painful to look at. And, they're not just limited to sandal season, either. In fact, we usually find ourselves hiding our roughed-up heels year-round. Like keeping our blisters at bay, it's a matter of providing hydration, hydration, and more hydration and — in this case — practicing proper exfoliation.

Dr. Brenner suggests exfoliating twice weekly to treat daily buildup of dead skin. Any sort of exfoliating scrub will do, whether it's formulated for the face or body. (Dr. Brenner favors St. Ives Invigorating Apricot Scrub.) Follow up with moisture in the form of a thick cream or hydrating treatment. Our pick? Dr. Brenner's own brand of Rx Moisturizing Booties. Pop 'em on, head to bed, and wake up to smooth, supple feet.
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