There’s more to proper foot hygiene than you might think.
Foot hygiene isn’t a glamorous subject. However, keeping your feet healthy is the key to keeping active. Neglecting your feet can lead to athlete’s foot, ingrown toenails and infection, all of which can limit your mobility and day to day comfort. So what should you do? Start with this simple 6-step routine.
The fundamentals of foot hygiene
1. Wash feet often
This tip may seem obvious, but there’s a difference between briefly washing feet in the shower and thoroughly cleaning off dead skin, dirt and other debris that accumulates throughout the day. Feet should be washed gently but thoroughly with mild soap. Make sure to get between your toes.
2. Dry feet well
Foot and toenail fungus thrives in wet or moist conditions. Thorough drying can help reduce the occurrence and spread of fungal infections. Extra care should be taken when drying between toes, where fungal infections like athlete’s foot typically develop first.
3. Exfoliate and moisturize
Exfoliate feet with a slightly rough surface, such as a pumice stone, to combat the build-up of dead skin. This is especially important if you have or suspect that you have a fungal infection. Fungi live in the uppermost layer of dead skin on the foot, so removing dead skin is extremely important.
Moisturizing with lotion or ointment helps prevent dryness and helps maintain the skin’s natural barrier properties.
4. Cut toenails carefully
Toenails should be cut regularly—about every one to two weeks. When cutting your nails, it is important to cut them straight rather than on a curve. This helps prevent ingrown toenails. After cutting, file down any sharp edges with an emery board. To ensure that your tools are not carrying bacteria or fungus, sanitize metal tools periodically in 70% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol).
Those who have diabetes, heart problems or poor circulation should avoid treating their own feet as they are more prone to infection.
5. Inspect feet often
No matter whether you are in perfect health or deal with chronic illness, it is good practice to regularly examine your feet. So what should you be looking for? Keep tabs on the following things: bumps, blisters, cuts, cracks, sores and bruises. Be especially mindful of cuts and cracks, as even small cracks can become infected.
Next, check your toenails. Healthy toenails should be pale pink where they attach to skin and clear where they are not attached to the skin. If the skin is red and puffy near your nail edge, it could be a sign of an ingrown toenail.
A less obvious but equally important indicator of foot health is temperature. If you notice that part of your foot is warm while the other part is cold, it could be a sign that there is a lack of blood flow to the cooler area. If you notice significant temperature differences, consult your doctor immediately.
6. Wear shoes that fit
Last but not least, good foot hygiene extends to footwear. According to the Mayo Clinic, foot pain and other conditions such as blisters and bunions can often be attributed to ill-fitting footwear. Whether shoes are a size too small, too narrow or a shape that contorts your feet, these seemingly minor discomforts can develop into real problems in the future.
New shoes should be purchased in the afternoon, as feet swell over the course of the day. Shopping later in the day will allow you to fit shoes to your feet when they are biggest, helping you avoid buying shoes that are too tight. If shoes don’t have proper arch support, you can always buy inserts. These will help you create a more customized fit and address specific arch needs.
Finally, be sure to wear clean socks and change them daily—or more if you are especially active. Socks made of synthetic fibers are more moisture-wicking than cotton, helping reduce the amount of moisture trapped by your socks.
Following these steps is an excellent way to ensure that you are maintaining good foot hygiene and helping prevent against common foot conditions and infections. Though it may take longer to follow this cleaning and care regiment, these simple steps can help keep you feeling good while on your feet.