WOMEN'S HEALTH
June 26, 2008

Foot Care Myth and Reality

Summer is tough on our feet. Not only are we more likely to go barefoot, but our feet receive much more exposure to the sun and the environment than in colder months. Summer may be beach and vacation season, but for our feet, it can also be the season of skin damage, infection, cuts and blisters.

Tracey Vlahovic, D.P.M., associate professor of podiatric medicine and orthopedics at Temple University's School of Podiatric Medicine, offers the following guide to hopes to the myths and realities of proper foot care.

Myth: It is good to walk barefoot or in flats or flip-flops.

Reality: Flip-flops do not provide any support and can lead to conditions such as plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains and tendonitis. Flats can cause severe heel pain and blisters, crowding toes, hammertoes and bunions. Walking barefoot can also lead to cuts, abrasions, bruises and puncture wounds.

Conclusion: Dr. Vlahovic says you should wear flip-flops or flats only for a few hours at a time; if you are planning on wearing them longer, she recommends stretching the Achilles tendon afterward. As for walking barefoot, this should only be done in your own home. Note that diabetics and people with peripheral vascular disease should always wear protective footgear both in and out of the house.

Myth: Store-bought scrubs and soaks for corns are effective.

Reality: A corn is a small buildup of skin, caused by friction where the toe knuckle rubs against the shoe, often caused by a hammertoe. As a result, "at-home soaks or scrubs would just exfoliate, not remove corns," says Dr. Vlahovic.

Conclusion: The only way to remove a corn permanently is to correct the hammertoe, so that it stops rubbing against the shoe. An alternative would be to wear shoes with a wider toe box.

Myth: You do not need to put sunscreen on your feet.

Reality: Skin cancer on the legs and feet has a high mortality rate, because people tend to forget to do skin checks in that area and the cancer is found too late.

Conclusion: "No matter what your race or ethnicity, the legs and feet are not immune to the sun's effects, and women have an even greater chance of developing skin cancer than men, because they often have more of their leg exposed, says Dr. Vlahovic. "The best protection is to continually apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 with both UVB and UVA protection, every few hours."

Myth: All pedicure salons use sterile instruments.

Reality: "Unfortunately, this is not the case with all nail salons," says Dr. Vlahovic. "As a result, the instruments can spread germs that can cause nail fungus and bacterial infections."

Conclusion: Buy and bring your own nail files, clippers and cuticle sticks, but if you choose to use shop instruments, make sure they have been sterilized after each use.

Myth: Soaking your feet in the motorized tub at a nail salon is perfectly fine.

Reality: Often, the antiseptic that is put in the water between clients does not kill all the germs and fungus.

Conclusion: It would be safer to ask for a clean bowl or basin to use instead, with individual liners for even greater protection.

Myth: Soaking your feet in vinegar will get rid of toenail fungus.

Reality: "It's a common myth perpetuated by both physicians and patients alike that vinegar is a cure-all," says Dr. Vlahovic. "But vinegar can't penetrate the layers of the nail to get to the infection site. And without proper treatment, the infection can spread to other nails."

Conclusion: The best way to get rid of fungal nails is to see your dermatologist or podiatrist. Be sure to follow their instructions to the letter to avoid a recurrence.

Myth: Athlete's foot and warts are not contagious.

Reality: Both are highly contagious, and easily spread in locker rooms or showers. The infections can be picked up through small breaks in the skin of the bottom of the foot.

Conclusion: In order to stop the spread of germs and viruses, you should keep your feet clean and dry. Do not wear dirty socks and thoroughly clean your bath or shower area. "If one person in the household has it, everyone should be cautious and take proper precautions," said Dr. Vlahovic. If you must use a public shower, make sure to wear flip-flops to protect your feet.

Myth: Duct tape removes plantar warts.

Reality: "If you have a plantar wart, don't pick or perform bathroom surgery on it," says Dr. Vlahovic. "Don't put duct tape on it and expect it to go away since there is a specific protocol for using it. See your dermatologist or podiatrist for this and other treatment options."
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