Most people only become concerned with their foot health and appearance during the summer months. Taking care of your feet during the cold weather can give you a head start on healthy feet before the weather warms up.
As always footwear selection is key. Shoes that are too tight or have a small toe box will increase the occurrence of painful and unsightly ingrown toenails.
The cold winter months can leave feet vulnerable to dry cracked skin especially at your heels. Moisturizing once to twice daily is an important step in prevention. Choosing moisturizers with a petroleum or oil will help seal in moisture. Ointments are 80% oil and 20% water, creams are usually 50% oil and 50% water. Lotions will have a similar oil:water content but are a lighter consistency and may not provide the same amount of moisture needed for the skin at the bottom of your feet. So it is best to choose an ointment or cream for your feet with oil or petroleum listed as the first ingredient.
In cases of severe dry cracked heels with a thick layer of hard skin you may need a prescription for a cream containing Urea. Urea is a chemical that helps soften the hard skin and allows moisturizers to penetrate while limiting the evaporation of water from the skin.
Fungus is another condition that plagues feet and nails. The first step is eradicating the fungus from your shoes and surfaces that your bare feet come in contact with. Bleaching tubs and showers, spraying lysol in your shoes are ways of disinfecting these areas. The next step is using an anti-fungal medication there are many both over the counter and prescription antifungals. Some are topical and may come as a cream or lotion and can be used on skin and nail. There are even antifungal nail polishes and oral medications. Some home remedies that are cost efficient and have proven extremely effective are diluted white vinegar and water soaks, as well as applying tea tree oil to infected nails. An important when treating fungal nails is to buff your nail with an emory board or nail file. Cut and discard the used portion to prevent re-infection with the used nail file.
Here are some pedicure pointers from the American Podiatric Medical Association:
The Dos and Don'ts for Fabulous Feet
Whether you like to get a pedicure in the nail salon or at home, follow these easy Dos and Don'ts to keep your feet looking and feeling their best.
- If you have diabetes or poor circulation in your feet, consult a podiatrist so he or she can recommend a customized pedicure that both you and your salon can follow for optimal foot health.
- Schedule your pedicure first thing in the morning. Salon foot baths are typically cleanest earlier in the day. If you're not a morning person, make sure that the salon filters and cleans the foot bath between clients.
- Bring your own pedicure utensils to the salon. Bacteria and fungus can move easily from one person to the next if the salon does not use proper sterilization techniques.
- When eliminating thick, dead skin build-up, also known as calluses, on the heel, ball and sides of the feet, use a pumice stone, foot file or exfoliating scrub. Soak feet in warm water for at least five minutes, then use the stone, scrub, or foot file to gently smooth calluses and other rough patches.
- When trimming nails, use a toenail clipper with a straight edge to ensure your toenail is cut straight across. Other tools like manicure scissors or fingernail clippers increase the risk of ingrown toenails because of their small, curved shape. See a podiatrist if you have a tendency to develop ingrown toenails.
- To smooth nail edges, use an emery board. File lightly in one direction without using too much pressure, being sure not to scrape the nail's surface.
- Gently run a wooden or rubber manicure stick under your nails to keep them clean. This helps remove the dirt and build-up you may or may not be able to see.
- Maintain the proper moisture balance of the skin on your feet by applying emollient-enriched moisturizer to keep soles soft.
- Use a rubber cuticle pusher or manicure stick to gently push back cuticles. If toenails are healthy, you can use nail polish to paint toenails. Make sure to remove polish regularly using non-acetone nail polish remover.
- Resist the urge to shave your legs before receiving a pedicure. Freshly shaven legs or small cuts on your legs may allow bacteria to enter.
- If you are receiving a pedicure and manicure, don't use the same tools for both services as bacteria and fungus can transfer between fingers and toes.
- Although certain salons offer this technique, do not allow technicians to use a foot razor to remove dead skin. Using a razor can result in permanent damage if used incorrectly and can easily cause infection if too much skin is removed.
- Do not round the edges of your toenails. This type of shape increases the chances that painful ingrown toenails will develop.
- Emery boards are extremely porous and can trap germs that spread. Since they can not be sterilized, do not share nail files with friends and be sure to bring your own to the salon, unless you are sure that the salon replaces them with each customer.
- Do not use any sharp tools to clean under nails. Using anything sharp makes it easy to puncture the skin, leaving it vulnerable to infection.
- Be sure that you do not leave any moisture between toes. Anything left behind can promote the development of athlete's foot or a fungal infection.
- Because cuticles serve as a protective barrier against bacteria, do not ever cut them. Cutting cuticles increases the risk of infection. Also, avoid incessantly pushing back cuticles, as doing so can make them thicker.
- If you suffer from thick and discolored toenails, which could be a sign of a fungal infection, do not apply nail polish to cover up the problem. Nail polish locks out moisture and does not allow the nail bed to "breathe." Once you fix the underlying issue, then it is safe to paint nails. If the problem persists, be sure to visit your podiatrist.
-Dr. Danielle McNeil D.P.M.