If you walk everywhere or spend hours of time on your feet, it may seem like no matter what shoes you're wearing, your poor, abused feet end up numb, sore, and covered in painful, ugly blisters by the end of the day. Not only does the tiniest blister leave you hobbling, but it can prevent you from wearing those cute sandals or peep-toe booties that show off your fresh pedi. Plus, sensitive, blister-covered feet can keep you from making your regular pedicure visit in the first place! Heaven forbid you forgo that biweekly sanity-saving treat to yourself.
While at this point you might have accepted discomfort — and, let's be real, unsightly feet — as a fact of life, according to the podiatrists we consulted, it doesn't have to be. With their help, we're breaking down the primary causes of blisters and giving you a game plan for effectively preventing and treating them.
What Causes Blisters
Though they're a pain in the foot, the formation of blisters is a natural defense mechanism.
"They're nature's way of protecting you," explained Dr. Johanna Youner, a podiatrist and member of the New York State Podiatric Medical Association. "Blisters happen from friction, and they can happen anywhere that there is too much rubbing. Fluid collects in between layers of the skin and acts a cushion."
So instead of dealing with an open wound — which would actually be more painful and much more susceptible to infection — your body creates a fluid-filled "pillow." Kind of cool, kind of gross, but ultimately a good thing.
That said, the primary cause of blisters is obviously friction, or a consistent back-and-forth rubbing action.
"Friction can happen from shoes that don't fit," said Dr. Jackie Sutera, a podiatrist and member of the Vionic Innovation Lab. "Too big and you'll swim around; too tight and they will rub."
A poor-fitting shoe is only further exacerbated by dryness or, conversely, sweat. Rough fabrics and materials that don't allow your feet to breathe will also increase your chances of getting a blister. In terms of muscular and skeletal foot soreness, you can blame good old gravity, body weight, and nonsupportive shoes.
How to Prevent Blisters
It may seem an impossible feat, but preventing the formation of blisters can be done. It starts with wise shoe decisions and ends with inserts and the right products.
For starters, don't debut your brand-new kicks on a day when you're going to do a ton of walking or standing. Instead, Dr. Sutera says to break in your shoes by wearing them for short periods of time. Additionally, if you know a shoe isn't the best fit but you really want to wear it, carry some stow-away flats and rock your fancy kicks only as long as you need to.
If you're wearing heels or flats, thin, soft socks will reduce the likelihood of friction. For boots or heavier shoes with tougher fabrics, a slightly thicker sock will not only keep you warmer, but will prevent rubbing as well.
Also, if you have a blister-prone area, put a bandage on it before you even think about walking out the door. Dr. Youner says the bandage will act as a second skin, preventing friction and therefore blisters. You can also hit up the drugstore for sprays, powders, tape, and ointments that specifically help this condition. Another prevention tip: keep your feet as dry as possible with foot antiperspirants or 100 percent cornstarch, especially if you sweat a lot.
To alleviate and prevent general soreness associated with being on your feet all day, make sure you're wearing shoes with arch support, cushioning, and shock absorption, suggested Dr. Sutera. If you have a shoe without the above, buy an insert that does the job.
How to Treat Blisters
There are few things worse in this world than feeling a blister form in the middle of a busy day. Maybe you're on vacation trying to squeeze in as much sightseeing as possible, or maybe you're going about your everyday business walking from point A to B. Either way, a new blister will stop you in your tracks — quite literally.
"Use lip balm on it in an emergency situation, as long as it's not popped open," suggested Dr. Sutera. "The lip balm will help reduce the rubbing and friction." If you go this route, choose a product that's thick and waxy and avoid anything with color or shimmer added, which can be irritating. For example,
Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm ($3) is 100 percent natural and contains beeswax, coconut oil, and sunflower oil.
She and Dr. Youner also recommend you carry bandages in your purse and apply one immediately. Don't wait until you're finally on the subway or at your destination, but literally stop and put it on the minute you notice a blister forming.
Dr. Youner added, "If you don't have access to a bandage, put a layer between you and whatever is hurting you. Even a napkin or paper towel can help decrease the friction. Whatever is accessible and soft will help."
For mature blisters that are large and filled with pus — you know, the ones you scrupulously examine after melting into your couch at the end of a long day — Dr. Sutera says your first plan of action is to wash your feet with gentle soap and water, followed by a 15-minute Epsom salts soak (1/2 cup Epsom, one quart warm water). After drying, apply an antibacterial and bandage.
As for popping them, well, you really should let nature take its course. However, if it's causing you a lot of pain and prevents you from wearing any shoes at all, you can take matters into your own (very clean) hands.
"Wash your hands, clean the skin with alcohol, and wipe a needle with alcohol," said Dr. Youner. "Then puncture the blister carefully [with an alcohol-sterilized needle] and push gently to let the blister fluid out. Afterward, apply Neosporin and cover with a bandage."
If your blister causes you an extreme amount of pain or becomes infected, causing you to be unable to walk or wear shoes, consult your doctor.
The moral of the foot story? Wear shoes that fit, apply preventative bandages to hot spots, and treat yourself with a foot soak to calm angry feet.