I’m so not a sock person. Maybe it’s the extra effort, or the shoes that go with socks, that make me resistant to them. But, for the most part, I can get away with my aversion to socks, thanks to barefoot workouts like yoga and wearing shearling-lined Uggs®, cute ballet flats, and of course (my favorite of all!) flip-flops. I love the breezy way that I can just slide in, soles on, wiggling my newly-pedicured toes through the thong.
Yet, while I could go on about my love of barely-there slip-ons, I’ve noticed a very ugly side to wearing them all summer long: hard-looking skin, a few blisters, and flaked, cracked heels. And while I can’t say that painful plantar fasciitis and ingrained calluses have happened to my feet, I’ve heard friends complain of these unpleasant side effects from wearing the heel-slapping footwear.
Flip-flop season has just begun, and not wanting to get to that point of no pretty feet return, I reached out to Dr. Emily Splichal, a New York City podiatrist and Human Movement Specialist, to dive deeper into my concerns. Turns out, these problems usually happen more with flip-flops than with other shoes.
“The very nature of flip-flops — the way the heel is loose, and friction from the thong between the toes — makes the feet more susceptible to calluses and blisters,” Dr. Splichal explains. Plus, with no back or arch support, your feet are literally pounding the pavement every time you take a step, putting strain on your heels, which can eventually lead to pain.
While she suggests wearing flip-flops only for quick jaunts to the beach or pool, she knows diehards like myself will be wearing them a lot more. Here, she notes the biggest issues, how to prevent them, and what to do if you’ve got one.
Your feet are more at risk for blisters (pockets of fluid that build up under the skin) with flip-flops because of the friction from the synthetic materials rubbing against your toes. Usually, a blister happens after you’ve taken a winter off from wearing open-toe shoes, and the skin needs time to acclimate to the friction, says Dr. Splichal.
With that in mind, she recommends a non-greasy friction blocker, like Body Glide® Foot Anti-Blister Balm ($8) before you even slip flip-flops on. The balm provides an invisible, dry barrier of protection that reduces the rubbing on skin and helps prevent blisters from forming. (While a dusting of powder can also work, it’ll wear off quicker.)
If you do find yourself with a blister, treat it with care: resist the urge to pop it and, instead, protect it with a cushioned blister bandage or moleskin. Eventually, it will break down. If fluid oozes out, apply an antibacterial ointment and keep a bandage on it during the day, taking it off at night to let it dry.
Calluses are thickened skin that builds up from pressure and tend to appear on the balls of your feet and heels. “Your feet are more susceptible to developing a callus in flip-flops because of the flat sole and the repetitive up-and-down motion when you walk,” says Dr. Splichal. To keep heels soft and stop skin buildup, she suggests applying a moisturizer with exfoliating AHAs, like Arm & Hammer® Heels and Feet Moisturizer ($9) nightly. And, once a week, after you apply it, wrap heels in plastic wrap and leave it on while you sleep. This will drive the exfoliators and moisturizers deeper into the skin.
If you’re wearing flip-flops daily, it’s not unusual to develop corns, a type of callus. While calluses alone feel like nothing, a corn can be painful, since it has a hard center. To treat corns, try soaking your feet in warm water, then rubbing a pumice stone over the area in circular motions to loosen up the thickened skin (this is also helpful to remove a regular callus). Afterwards, moisturize with a petroleum-based ointment like Vaseline® ($6 for two tubs) to seal in moisture. For persistent corns, see a podiatrist, who can offer a prescription exfoliant or remove them with a scalpel in-office.
It’s obvious your flip-flop clad feet are spending more time in hot, open air. With that comes the most noticeable foot issues — a dry texture, flakes, cracks, dark marks, and even sunburn. “One of the most neglected areas of skin is the tops of your feet, where the skin is thinner and more susceptible to UV damage and moisture loss,” explains Dr. Splichal. “When you spend the day in open-toed shoes, a lot of pollution and pavement gets on your feet, which can leave discoloration marks and bacteria.”
Her remedy is to treat feet before you go out with a combination of an antiseptic moisturizing spray, like Earth Therapeutics® Tea Tree Oil Foot Spray ($14) and an application of sunscreen. At day’s end, soak feet in a tub, then cleanse them with a pumice stone or granular scrub, like Barefoot Scientist™ Pure Grit™ ($28) to break up the gray marks and dirt. Afterwards, apply a rich cream all over. “I always suggest waiting for the cream to be completely absorbed before you put on flip-flops, since you don’t want your feet to be slippery and skid out while wearing them,” she adds.
The lack of arch and cushion support in a flip-flop increases your chance of developing this painful condition, which happens when the tissue band that runs across the bottom of your foot gets stressed and inflamed. If you have it, you’ll know: The pain feels like someone is stabbing you in your heel, especially after sleeping or sitting for a long period.
To relieve it, Dr. Splichal suggests rolling each foot on a ball every day for at least five minutes to release tissue stress. Of course, wearing a shoe with more arch support will help; more
fashion-forward brands like Aetrex® or Vionic® carry trendy flip-flop styles and have orthotic support built into the shoe. You can also use compression elastic arch straps (like these from Roxofit™, $13) that you can wear with shoes and while sleeping to stretch the arch and alleviate the pressure. If nothing seems to work, see a podiatrist who can recommend in-office treatment options.
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