The skin on our lower extremities (legs and feet) is naturally the driest part of our body, and therefore has the most need for routine moisturizing. Unfortunately, this area is more likely to be neglected during the winter. The feet particularly become dry, thickened, and rough. Worse case scenario, cracks or fissures of the heels develop that lead to discomfort. This condition is termed hyperkeratosis (a thickening of the outer layer of skin). Those who develop hyperkeratosis on their soles are then compelled to scramble when winter is over, in an effort to make their feet appear presentable and appropriate for spring and summer footwear. What's the most common remedy? -- a pedicure. Hopefully, those who elect for this option have done their research to find a facility that knows how to appropriately care for feet with hyperkeratosis. They achieve a safe and healthy outcome. But, all too often this is not the case. Some technicians are inclined to be extremely aggressive with mechanical exfoliation, sometimes using tools that resemble cheese graters, potentially compromising the skin's protective barrier. The feet are then at risk for secondary bacterial, fungal, or viral infections. So what's the solution?
Familiarize yourself with these helpful dermatology tips [below] that are great for at home prevention of hyperkeratosis and treatment of some mild forms. Seek the guidance of a board-certified dermatologist when the condition of your skin is not improving or worsening. Complement this recommended routine with treatments from facilities that are clean and properly certified to avoid unnecessary harm to your skin. And prepare yourself for feet you can be proud to show off while walking around Detroit this spring. Happy #DermTipTuesday!
Routine Foot Care For the Winter
1. Replace the skin's water content and natural oils
When the skin on the feet are exceptionally dry and in need of healing, standard moisturizers often times won't do. Reach for your favorite natural oil (i.e. tea tree, coconut, olive) to moisturize. Use the oil all over the feet at least once a day. The best time to apply these oils are directly after a shower or bath, leaving a few water drops on the feet, then massage in the oils.
2. Maintain skin hydration
Use protective barriers, like ointments, to really lock in that moisture you've worked hard at replacing. A very effective and affordable method is to apply plain Vaseline ointment to the feet at night, then cover the feet with socks while you sleep.
Don't forget to consume plenty of water throughout the day. This will help to hydrate your skin from the inside out.
3. Gently exfoliate
Over-the-counter (OTC) agents with active ingredients such as lactic acid, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and urea can be effective at exfoliating the skin. These chemical forms of exfoliation are much safer when compared to mechanical exfoliation. Mechanical exfoliation, such as the use of pumice stones or other exfoliating devices, put's the skin at risk for over exfoliation which can compromise the skin barrier. Once this protective barrier is altered, organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses can enter the skin, thus adding insult to injury.
My favorite OTC product that will exfoliate the heels quite nicely is the 20% Urea Intensive Healing Cream. It's one of the most concentrated urea products you can find OTC, and safe to use on an as needed basis. If OTC's don't work, depending on the severity of the hyperkeratosis, higher concentrations of urea, such as urea 40%, are available through prescription or at licensed providers' offices.
4. Pay attention to signs and symptoms
Inspect the skin on the feet regularly. Do not ignore symptoms such as itching or pain. Have concern for any new spots that are changing and not healing. Be suspicious of rashes that won't resolve. Seek immediate evaluation by a board-certified dermatologist in these instances.