Ouch. Cosseted all winter in socks, your feet now are most likely gadding about in strappy sandals, flip-flops and peep-toe wedges.
And you are paying the price.
"How many ladies I've seen with little Band-Aids along the edges of their foot," observes shoe designer Stuart Weitzman.
"I just want to cut my feet off," says Heather Kleinert, a New York publicist who wore a different pair of shoes each day last week and says each one rubbed painfully in a different spot.
This is peak season for foot pain. Feet swell and sweat in warmer weather, which changes the way shoes fit. As summer wears on, calluses develop and pain subsides. But then, through winter, feet lose their toughness if you don't continue wearing the shoes. By next spring, the cycle begins all over again.
Current fashions are partly to blame. Gladiator sandals' straps and studs make them look and feel like sado-masochistic torture devices. Elasticized ballet flats may slice painfully into the Achilles tendon.
Even flip-flops are guilty: As they flip and flop with each step, they can create hot spots and blisters between the toes or in the place on top where the V-strap rubs.
Mr. Weitzman has a sore spot about slingbacks that lack elastic near the buckle. "It almost should be a law," he says. Slingback straps need elastic to stretch as the foot flexes during walking. "If there were consumer-protection laws for shoes," Mr. Weitzman says, "that should be one."
Manufacturers are flooding drugstores with solutions, products designed to cushion the foot against cuts and blisters while accommodating summer style.
They include adhesive gel pads shaped like toes or narrow sandal straps, and cotton moleskin that can be trimmed into inserts. Glide-on stick products, applied like a solid antiperspirant, are supposed to reduce foot friction and prevent sore spots.
Blister care appears to be a growth business at retail. Dr. Scholl's introduced three of its four blister products in the past three years, based on research indicating some 7% of U.S. adults age 18 or over suffer from blisters annually, according to Merck & Co.
Sales of Foot Petals devices in supermarkets, drugstores and other mass retailers (excluding Wal-Mart) rose 113% over the past 52 weeks, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago market research firm.
Alison Garten, a Washington D.C. podiatrist and co-vice president of the American Association for Women Podiatrists, says most of these foot-pain products function well enough, but the goal is to have no use for them at all. Prevent blisters by wearing shoes that fit and that are designed for the day's activity.
"Dress shoes weren't meant to walk a quarter-mile from the metro," Dr. Garten says. "That's exercise. Nobody would dare exercise in a pair of high heels."
I tried out some blister solutions last week. Though I didn't have any open wounds, I did have sore spots coming on, and I needed something to help me get through an outdoor cocktail party that would keep me on my heels for hours.
On my right foot, a Band-Aid Advanced Healing Blister gel pad stayed in place all evening, and the gel did seem to jiggle enough to absorb friction so that my toe didn't have to. On my left foot, the adhesive moleskin was slightly more comfortable—it was thinner and almost cozy.
Possibly its greatest benefit, though, is that it can be cut into any shape and size with a pair of scissors, and it comes in skin tones, so it can be well hidden. For these reasons, it's the blister-solution of choice for many costume designers. "We always, always, always use moleskin," says Ellen Mirojnick, a Hollywood designer known for her work on films including "Fatal Attraction," "Wall Street" and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."
I discovered a shortcoming when the moleskin I'd carefully shaped got scrunched up in my wedge gladiators, leaving a protruding tag of the felty stuff, which I ripped off. Next time, I might adhere the moleskin to the shoe, rather than my foot. That's the idea behind Dr. Scholl's Rub Relief foam strips, sold in a tape-like dispenser so you can cut it to the desired length and attach to a sandal strap. The foam was less sturdy than moleskin; it tore easily in my fingers.
A prettier version of this concept comes from Foot Petals, of Long Beach, Calif., which produces sturdy pads, including some with adhesive strips for sandal straps, in colors including black, white, brown and silver.
Anyi Lu, a designer of stylish, comfortable shoes, has some homegrown solutions. She rubs candle wax or beeswax on problem areas of the leather lining the shoe interior to soften and smooth them.
For blistered feet, she recommends a 10-minute soak in brewed black tea; the astringent tea will kill bacteria (and odor), she says. (Tea is similar to the solution an athletic trainer once gave my husband during a tennis tournament in Italy. "Go soak your feet in the Adriatic," he said. The salt-water stroll enabled my husband to play the next day.) Follow the soak with antibiotic salve and a bandage.
Women are more prone to blisters than men for the simple reason that they more often buy shoes that don't fit. Buy shoes designed to hug and flex with the foot.
Bear in mind that summer shoes purchased during the winter will probably fit more snugly in warm weather. "If they don't fit right, don't buy them," cautions Dr. Garten, the podiatrist. "You're not going to be able to 'break in' shoes."
Stuart Weitzman suggests buying rubber flip flops, like Havianas, with rounded straps so the edges don't chafe.
Ms. Lu advises buying shoes with functional, rather than decorative, buckles, so you can adjust them as your feet swell. With sandals, the wider the straps, the more they will distribute pressure and reduce friction on one tender spot.
Ms. Lu says she is careful to buy shoes with leather linings, because they will stretch and accommodate summer feet. Pleather and other faux leathers don't do that. To tell the difference, she uses her nose. "It sounds odd, but I smell the shoes," Ms. Lu says. "Touch it, feel it, smell it."
She also advises restraint when it comes to wearing your new favorite sandals. "You should alternate your shoes," she says. - WSJ
Written by: Christina Binkley