Taking care of your hands and feet doesn’t only mean moisturizing. Simple steps in your daily routine can protect against nasty infections and even cancer.
You probably have a daily regimen for keeping your face clean as well as moisturized, but what about your hard-working hands and feet?
Hands are the most frequently used body part. They can become dry and ashy really fast. And feet take a beating from bearing your body weight all day. As winter approaches, hands and feet are both more likely to look dull, red or cracked. Don’t just throw on mittens and boots to hide them until spring. Caring for them now can have long-lasting health benefits.
Here’s how to put your best foot – and hand – forward.
1. Scan nails for dark spots. If a spot or band is black, brown or purple, don’t assume it’s a bruise. It could mean melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. To be safe, always get a discolored nail checked by a dermatologist.
2. Keep nails growing strong. New cells develop deep under cuticles and push out older, dead cells. That forms those flat, hard surfaces we love to pamper and polish. If you’re always waiting for yours to grow out, try the b-complex vitamin biotin. This supplement – found at health-food stores – has been shown to help with nail growth.
3. Make the most of a mani-pedi. All the polish in the world can’t make ridged, scraggly tips look pretty. Buffing will smooth the surface. Rub gently so you don't thin the nail too much, which increases weakness. A non-acetone nail-polish remover will keep nails from drying out, and filing nails in one direction, rather than sawing back and forth, prevents splitting.
The most important tip for healthy nails: Don’t share files and other nail tools, since germs and fungus can travel on them, causing serious infections. If you get your nails done at the salon, bring your own file, orange stick, clipper and cuticle nipper.
4. Don’t overlook cuticles. Cuticles may seem insignificant when they’re healthy, but small tears, usually from hangnails or dryness, leave the area vulnerable to infections that may cause painful swelling. Hydrating that delicate area with a cuticle cream or hand moisturizer will help create a protective barrier against bacteria, fungus and yeast.
And resist the urge to cut cuticles, which can break that barrier. Instead, apply cuticle remover – which softens and breaks down the skin – then push cuticles back gently with a clean orange stick.
5. Choose the right moisturizer. It’s no secret that wind and cold temperatures dry out skin on hands and, in severe cases, cause chapping and painful cracks.
And the sun, while it may warm hands, isn’t much better for keeping skin smooth. When going outdoors, coat exposed hands in SPF 15 to protect against water loss and harmful rays. Cancer is your biggest risk, but the sun’s rays also dry skin.
Although feet aren’t as exposed to the elements, being cooped up in socks, shoes, and carrying body weight all day can dry them out. The remedy for chapped, cracked hand and feet: Moisturize, a lot and often.
To help the moisturizer penetrate – and keep it off your sheets – apply a thick layer on feet and hands right before getting into bed. Then, slip on cotton socks and gloves, which let skin breathe. If you don’t have cotton gloves, slip socks on hands too.
6. Wear the right shoe size. Cramming feet into too-small or pointy shoes isn’t only uncomfortable; it can make your toenail grow into the surrounding skin. That can lead to the dreaded ingrown nail, which causes pain, swelling and infection. It’s an inflammatory reaction that occurs because your skin sees the nail as a foreign body. Too-long toenails can also cause problems. If they constantly hit the front of the shoe, you can have bruising under the nail. These bruises, in turn, cause a break in the seal between the nail and toe underneath, allowing bacteria and fungus to get in and causing infections. Avoid both types of pain by keeping toenails neatly trimmed straight across.
7. Don’t go barefoot in public. Keep your shoes on while at public places (swimming pools, locker rooms, shoe stores, etc.) to avoid nail fungal infections. These account for about half of all nail disorders, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Fungus doesn’t only travel from floors to feet through small cuts or separations between the nail and nail bed. If you have a nail fungal infection, it can spread from one nail to another, and the skin. If left untreated, an infection can cause permanent nail damage or lead to serious infections in other parts of your body, according to the Mayo Clinic. Warning signs to watch for: A nail that’s thickening, yellowing, crumbling or lifting from its bed (as if it’s about to fall off).
To lessen risk of fungal infections, wash and dry feet thoroughly after showering, and wear shoes when you can – including flip-flops in gym showers. It feet sweat a lot, change socks often.
Welcome! I'm Stephanie (Jo to close friends), founder of EdenSong. Aside from my university studies, I have a natural passion for all things organic. I enjoy living and learning about natural ways, all things health related, cooking, gardening with herbs and flowers, photography, DIYing, yoga, bicycling, ballet, traveling and being with family and friends. A quirk of mine is my near obsession of Asian culture, particularly Korean history and its language. Would you like to know more? Find out about us.
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