How to keep your feet healthy this summer

Everyone knows about using sun cream, after-sun and moisturiser to protect their body against harmful UV rays, but what about looking after one of most hardworking and underrated of body parts - your feet? A podiatrist shares a range of practical tips on how to keep your feet healthy this summer.

Did you know that going out with bare feet during summer is often better for you than wearing flip-flops or sandals? Or that nails are made of protein and are therefore as vulnerable to sun damage as your skin?

The truth is, aside from clipping our toenails and making the odd, usually last-ditch visit to the podiatrist for (mainly aesthetic) reasons, most of us shamefully neglect our feet.

Yet, during the summer months, they are especially vulnerable to damage from the sun as well as painful conditions resulting from general wear and tear, such as unsightly blisters and dry, cracked skin.

Sole survivor: protecting feet from the sun

"Feet can swell in the heat, so footwear that fits well at home can rub on holiday, which may cause blisters to develop," says Emma McConnachie, a podiatrist fromThe College of Podiatry in the UK.

"Walking in sandals or flip-flops in warmer weather can really dry out your feet, especially at the heels, which can be painful."

She points out that in the summer months, many of us forget to include our feet in our sun protection regime. But it's important not to neglect them; your feet receive a lot of exposure if you are wearing flip-flops or sandals.

"If you are lying down and sunbathing on the beach, don't forget to apply sun cream to the top and the soles of your feet. Getting burnt here can be very painful!"

Support your feet and prevent blisters

Flip-flops are a cool, comfy and a great choice when walking on the beach, in the garden or around the house. However, they are not ideal for long walks or for wearing every day as they provide very little support.

"The best summer sandal for frequent wear is one with straps that hold your foot in place across the top and at the back - a gladiator sandal, for example," says McConnachie. "You can also buy sandals with moulded soles that support the arch of your feet. These offer more support and are usually more comfortable than completely flat soles."

The correct choice of summer footwear can also prevent painful blisters. Caused by rubbing - especially between the toes if you're wearing flip-flops with a toe-stop - they are more common in hot weather and can last as long as seven days.

"Prevent blisters by stretching out sandals," advises McConnachie. "Wear them with socks and walk around indoors to loosen them up, or use foot balm to protect your skin from chaffing."

She explains that when it comes to dealing with a blister, you should first consider its size. If the blister is small and not causing a problem while wearing footwear, you can cover it with a plaster to avoid friction pain. Don't burst small blisters.

"Should the blister be so large that you are unable to wear footwear then carefully bursting but not removing the overlying skin will help. Ensure the area is then covered with a clean and dry dressing and monitor its progress. If it is open and there is raw skin underneath then consider using an antimicrobial - especially if the blister is dirty or looking infected.

"Using a clean, dry dressing with a non-stick section is also advisable. Most foot blisters clear up if further excessive friction is avoided."

How do I avoid verrucas and smelly feet?

Verrucas are foot warts, small growths that commonly occur on the soles of the feet or around the toe area, and may grow inward beneath a hard, thick layer of skin (known as a callus).

They are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is highly contagious through direct person-to-person contact, a risk during summer when feet are more exposed.

"If you suffer with verrucas, avoid touching them and about half will clear up of their own accord within a year," says McConnachie. "An over-the-counter ointment or gel can also be used. In painful cases, if they have been present for longer than six months, or if they are spreading, it is worth visiting your GP or a podiatrist."

Although not as uncomfortable as verrucas, sweaty, smelly feet are a common and embarrassing affliction during the hot summer months. However, worry not. Preventing foot odour can be as simple as wearing open sandals when you can, or changing tights or socks at least once a day.

"Choose socks containing at least 70% cotton, wool or bamboo, although some man-made fibre socks are specifically designed to keep feet dry," adds McConnachie. "Wash feet at least once a day, dry carefully between the toes and alternate the shoes you wear daily to allow them to dry out. If odour persists, try an antibacterial soap."

Hard heel skin and toenails

Cracked heels are painful and unsightly all year around, but especially when the weather warms up.

This is because a lot of popular summer shoes have thin soles, meaning the fat pad on the heel receives more pressure as the foot strikes the floor.

McConnachie advises using a pumice stone or a non-metal foot file while in the shower or bath to gently exfoliate the build-up of skin that can occur on the heels of your feet. When your skin is dry, apply a good-quality foot moisturiser - look for one containing clinical grade urea - except between the toes.

Finally, the podiatrist shares invaluable advice on how to avoid tripping up on another perennial summer foot care problem: unsightly toenails.

"When cutting toenails, it's best to use nail nippers, rather than nail cutters, because they have a smaller cutting blade and a longer handle," McConnachie explains. "Cut your nails straight across and don't cut too low at the edge or down the side - the corner of the nail should be visible above the skin. Also, it is better to cut your nails after a bath or shower when they are much softer."