Give Your Feet a Makeover

Tired of wearing Nikes to the beach to contain the smell? Sitting on your heels at picnics to hide your hideous feet from view? MLT talked to foot experts about the most common problems that affect our most used and abused appendages, and how to fix them. You might never make it as a foot model, but your paws will be good-looking enough to take out of hiding.

Problem: Smelly Shoes

What it is: No need to explain … we’ve all experienced it at some point.

Why you have it: Odor-causing bacteria thrive in dark, damp spaces, making your sweaty shoes an ideal environment.
How to get rid of it: Wear socks made of natural fibers and alternate between different pairs of shoes daily to give them time to dry. You can also spray them with Lysol or special shoe spray designed to exterminate odor, sprinkle them with medicated foot powder or baking powder, or simply pop them in a Ziploc bag and stick it in the freezer overnight. “The cold temperature will kill most odor-causing bacteria,” says Dr. Jacqueline Sutera, a podiatrist at Manhattan-based City Podiatry.

Problem: Smelly Feet

What it is: Pew! Even if you throw your shoes out the window, the smell won’t go away.
Why you have it: “Most times, smelly feet are caused by infection,” says Sutera. Telltale signs include yellow nails, blisters, flaky “dry” skin, peeling, itchy skin, rashes, and red or white rough patches.
How to get rid of it: If you spot any of these, make an appointment with a foot doctor. The problem will only get worse if left untreated. If, however, your feet look shipshape -- they just smell of rotten fish -- there are some simple steps you can take: Lather up and scrub in between your toes when you shower; then let them dry off completely. Dust them with a deodorizing foot powder or cornstarch to absorb moisture, or spritz with foot deodorant/antiperspirant, either over-the-counter or prescription-strength. “You can even try your favorite underarm deodorant,” suggests Sutera.

Problem: Corns and Calluses

What it is: “A callus generally refers to a more diffuse thickening of the skin, whereas a corn is thicker and more focalized,” says Dr. Jonah Mullens, a podiatrist with sports medical group SOAR in the San Francisco area. Most of the time the problem is just aesthetic, but sometimes it’s painful, infected, and won’t stop getting bigger. If that’s the case, see a podiatrist.
Why you have it: Corns and calluses are the result of skin thickening in response to excessive pressure -- from tight footwear, for example -- usually in combination with some friction. “The skin thickens to protect itself,” explains Mullens.
How to get rid of it: After showering, Sutera suggests using a pumice stone or foot file. Gently rub the toughened skin in one direction; if you go back and forth aggressively, you’ll just rip the skin and make it rougher. A special foot moisturizer with lactic acid, urea or alpha hydroxy acid should be used on a daily basis.

Problem: Fungus

What it is: Fungal infections of the feet (like athlete’s foot) can cause dry skin, redness, blisters, itching and peeling. Toenail fungus causes thick, brittle, discolored yellow nails that can be painful under pressure.
Why you have it: The warm, dark and moist environment in our shoes is the ideal place for fungus to grow. Sometimes it can spread to the nail. An injury from soccer or skiing, for instance, can create a damaged portion of the toenail where fungus can easily get in.
How to get rid of it: Try an over-the-counter antifungal powder or cream. If you don’t see results within two to four weeks, Mullens advises going to the doctor, who might prescribe an oral medicine. To prevent infections, keep feet clean and dry by wiping down the area between your toes after showering and changing your shoes and socks regularly.

Problem: Ingrown Toenails

What it is: Skin on the side of the toenail gets irritated, causing swelling, odor, pain and redness.
Why you have it: We’d make a bet you were a little too aggressive with that nail trimmer.
How to get rid of it: Cut your nails in a gently rounded shape, and avoid hacking into the corners. “If the skin does become inflamed, try soaking the toe for 10 to 15 minutes in warm water with Epsom salt three times daily,” says Dr. Jennifer Saam, a podiatrist in Bellevue, Wash. “If it’s not improving, you may need antibiotics or even a procedure to remove the offending portion of the nail.”

Problem: Dried, Cracked Heels

What it is: The skin around the edges of the heel thickens. Sometimes it cracks, which can be pretty painful, especially if the cracks are deep enough and get infected.
Why you have it: From going barefoot or wearing sandals or flip-flops regularly.
How to get rid of it: Once your skin softens in the shower, shave the hard spots with a callus razor. After toweling dry, slather on a good moisturizer. Do so right before bed, suggests Dr. Saam, and stick on a pair of socks so the moisture will penetrate your feet while you sleep.

by Caroline Kinneberg