I am ashamed of my feet.
August 3, 2009 9:29 PM   Subscribe

What should I do about my icky feet?

I have disgusting feet, and have had them my whole life. I'm female. Both of my big toes have that thick yellow nail on them. I keep them as trimmed as I can both length and thickness.

I have chronic athlete's foot that I use antifungal ointment on. It goes away for a few weeks and then returns. I've tried the spray but that caused the normal skin to dry out way too much. I always wear clean socks and rotate through four pairs of tennis shoes.

I have rough calluses on my heels and the balls of my feet. I have tried all manner of exfoliation (towel, scissors, file, Ped-egg type) but I can't keep up with them. It'd be okay if they were smooth calluses like you see on people's hands, but they are rough and peeley.

The rest of the bottoms are constantly peeling as well, and occasionally cracking.

"Just rub lotion in and wear socks to bed!" you say? Then the athlete's foot flares up, gross and itchy. Also, a bit smelly. I had foot odor bad as a kid, but it's not too bad anymore.

I don't have much foot pain, but I do have wide feet and I think I have a normal arch. Am I wearing the wrong shoes? Could a podiatrist even help me, or are these all just cosmetic problems?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You should really see a podiatrist.
posted by amfea at 9:36 PM on August 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Have you considered a tougher treatment for both the athlete's foot and toenail problems? Prescription strength from your usual doctor?

Could it be possible you're re-infecting yourself?

"Rotating" your shoes - they simply dry out? You use a proper anti-fungal on them, if required (if it were that bad for me I'd consider treating them)?

What about your socks? Do you have a sterile-steam cycle on the washer, or use bleach?

How about the shower, and other places you wear bare feet? How are you cleaning them, and how often?

Are you the only person usually in the home with bare feet? Do you go to gyms and shower bare-footed?

No ideas on the callouses, sorry.
posted by tilde at 9:37 PM on August 3, 2009

The cracks and peeling on the rest of your feet can be fungal in nature too.

If you do use gym showers, or share a shower with several other folk- flipflops are a good way to avoid catching new nasties (or passing yours on, I should think).

Oh, also you should make sure you're using the antifungal cream for long enough to completely clear the issue. I don't know how long that is, but your doctor will (even the medication's insert might give you info on this).
posted by nat at 9:42 PM on August 3, 2009

A podiatrist can do something about your toenails. My dad has the same affliction. His podiatrist has a tool like a Dremel (heck it may even be a Dremel) and she files them with that. There was an old wive's tale going around that Vick's Vaporub helps kill toenail fungus, which my dad also tried. I don't know how much it helped but it sure didn't hurt.

Like tilde I am curious about your showering regimen with respect to your feet. Do you wash your feet with a particular kind of soap in the shower every day? Do you use a separate cloth for washing that is just for your feet? Are you making sure your feet are completely dry before you put on shoes?
posted by contessa at 9:47 PM on August 3, 2009

"I'm Dinker the Dermatophyte. I live in your nailbed..."

There are different fungi and different treatments for for them (hell, even the OTC stuff come in different formulations). See a doctor.
posted by orthogonality at 9:48 PM on August 3, 2009

Nth-ing "see a doc."

Also, for many many people, cutting calluses just makes them grow back more vigorously--calluses are responses to stress on the skin of the foot, and scissors/razor blades/that weird cheese-parer-like tool are pretty darn stressful.

Try an anti-callus cream with urea--Kerasal is one that works pretty well. And sand with a pumice stone or non-metal foot file (the kind with a coarse black emery board on one side and a finer beige emery board on the other works well).
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:57 PM on August 3, 2009

Yep, one more vote for seeing a doctor. She can prescribe an oral treatment for the fungal infections.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 10:54 PM on August 3, 2009

Good foot washing technique is fundamental, too. Reserve a nice heavy washcloth just for feet. Keep it in a bucket of bleach when you're not using it. Rinse it thoroughly before you do use it. Start your shower with a sitting-down foot wash. Don't use soap; use an antidandruff shampoo containing zinc pyrithione. Wash thoroughly between your toes. Build up a good lather, then squeeze out the cloth, rinse it, dump it back in its bucket, and let the rest of your shower do the foot rinse for you.

I always wear clean socks

Always wear clean cotton or wool socks. Synthetics are fungus's best friend.

and rotate through four pairs of tennis shoes

Ditch the tennis shoes. Get leather shoes, and put anti-stink charcoal insoles in them.
posted by flabdablet at 11:29 PM on August 3, 2009

Please don't go to a foot spa or podiatrist, your feet are contagious. Every problem you've mentioned, the cracking skin, the toenails, the odour, are all caused by the chronic fungal infection. Go see a doctor, they'll give you antifungal pills to take for three to six months and it will clear up. That's the only treatment which is going to help, OTC anti-fungals can't cope with this kind of infection and trying to remove the calluses or whatever is just going to make a mess. Once you've sorted the infection then you can worry about fancy socks or nice foot lotion but deal with the medical issue first.
posted by shelleycat at 12:23 AM on August 4, 2009

Every problem you've mentioned, the cracking skin, the toenails, the odour, are all caused by the chronic fungal infection. Go see a doctor, they'll give you antifungal pills to take for three to six months and it will clear up. That's the only treatment which is going to help, OTC anti-fungals can't cope with this kind of infection and trying to remove the calluses or whatever is just going to make a mess.

Agreed, this is a chronic fungal infection that's beyond topical approaches at this point. In addition to seeing a doctor, I'd recommend cutting sugar (sweets, pasta, bread, alcohol) out of your diet for a while. If you've got a fungus, sugar is going to feed it.
posted by headnsouth at 1:45 AM on August 4, 2009

I don't know how feasible this is for you, but I had/have a similar problem with athlete's foot, for some reason on my left foot it's really heinous. I'm in Japan and by chance I went to a hot spring (there are tons of them in Japan) with natural sulfur in the water. The water was a bright, opaque green and smelled like the bowels of Hades...y'know, sulfur.

I stayed in there just about 15 minutes or so (way too hot) and a day or two later I noticed my athlete's foot was GONE. Totally, completely disappeared, and all because of the sulfur bath. It's since come back since then, but IIRC, the a. foot stayed away for many, many weeks, if not months. Go see a doctor, but you also might check out sulfur bath salts.
posted by zardoz at 2:47 AM on August 4, 2009

I can't say much about the athlete's foot, but can comment on the nails/peeling/cracking/callouses:

My mother always had extremely thick toenails and cracking feet. For years, doctors tried to treat it as a fungal infection-- to no avail. Within the last few months she has started taking zinc supplements (for something else, I think), and has noticed a significant improvement in her feet.

When you go to the podiatrist, maybe ask about what zinc could do for you. Just a shot in the dark, but my mom seems to be very pleased with the results after 30+ years of terrible, terrible feet.
posted by sunshinesky at 4:02 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

My DOCTOR recommended Vick's Vaporub for toenail fungus. It works, albeit more slowly than prescription stuff.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:34 AM on August 4, 2009

Tea Tree Oil.
Get a bottle of water (gah), take a few sips and then add a few drops of the oil. Shake before use, it's like vinegar and oil, doesn't mix well. Start at low concentration and go up a bit, powerful stuff. It will kill toe-nail fungus, it will kill athlete's foot, it will kill minor mouth injuries (don't swallow), it will kill acne (and dry out your skin like mad).

Tea tree oil was one of the few things that saved me many a times when I was homeless, it's like kill shit in a bottle, a drop or three will do you, dilute with water. A drop on your hand and some water is the best aftershave you'll have (guys), a drop and a splash and a foot massage is better than any OTC anti-fungal foot crap, same with aftershave.

It comes in a bottle with a dropper for a reason, you just need a drop or two and a slight dash of water... pure TTO is nasty.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:37 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

What are your parents' feet like? I have the calluses too -- podiatrists tend to call it hyperkeratosis. So does my mom. It's genetic and every podiatrist I've ever seen says I just have to live with it, same as my mom does.
posted by escabeche at 6:17 AM on August 4, 2009

Nthing that you're past the point where topicals are going to work; clear up this fungal infection with prescription meds, THEN take the rest of the advice in this thread.
posted by desuetude at 6:25 AM on August 4, 2009

In addition to seeing a doctor, I'd recommend cutting sugar (sweets, pasta, bread, alcohol) out of your diet for a while. If you've got a fungus, sugar is going to feed it.

This is great advice. I had feet exactly like you describe, and cutting flour products and sugar out of my diet totally changed the texture and appearance of the skin on my feet, without any meds or doctor visits. I no longer have any callouses or cracked skin....my feet look great. And for the nails, the tea tree oil. The combination of a change in diet and the TTO works wonders on skin and nails.
posted by iconomy at 6:55 AM on August 4, 2009

You might try drying your feet with a hairdryer for a few minutes when you get out of the shower, just to make sure that they're as dry as possible. And yeah, I think a doctor is probably your best bet for the fungal infection.
posted by corey flood at 6:56 AM on August 4, 2009

I've also heard that corn huskers lotion is great for dealing with dry skin.
posted by mokeydraws at 9:31 AM on August 4, 2009

Corn starch in my shoe helps keep them a bit drier when I get a bit of athlete's foot. Ask the podiatrist about it.
posted by theora55 at 10:05 AM on August 4, 2009

My father had the same problem. People objected when he took his shoes off nearby, it was so disgusting looking. He had the worst whatever-it-was the doctor had ever seen. He went on drugs, and within 6-9 months he had normal looking feet. They have stayed normal since, with no efforts on his part wrt shoes, socks, lotion or exfoliation. I can look up the exact names, but I am not a doctor, and these drugs are not available OTC.

See a doctor.
posted by jeather at 10:20 AM on August 4, 2009

I have the same conditions you do. They make babies cry. Wine turns to vinegar in their presence. They've been like this since I was six.

Some of the suggestions here are right on. Try blow-drying your feet, use a pumice stone every day, twice if you have the time, just scrape and scrape until all that dead crap comes off. Cotton socks and shoes that breathe. Tea Tree oil has never done anything for me, but what the heck, give it a try. I haven't tried the Vapo Rub treatment, but I've met people who swear by it.

Also, go talk to a doctor. But be aware that the oral medication they commonly prescribe for toenail fungus can lead to impaired liver function or liver failure. I opted to have ugly toes and a functional liver, but your priorities may be different.

Now here's the part where you're going to have to seriously suspend everything you know, and everything you believe. Remember, I have the same condition you do, so I'm speaking as a knowing, empathetic confidant.

Wear sandals. The kind that expose your toes to the elements and the judgmental stares of others. Your feet need to dry out and they're not going to do that if you keep them enclosed in shoes. Your feet will itch less, the callouses will be easier to manage, and your feet will be generally happier.

I understand that what I've just written has probably filled your soul with horror. Six months ago I would have reacted the same way. But I've recently taken to wearing flip-flops and devil take anyone who gives a shit what my feet look like. They're my goddamned feet and if they don't like it the can mind their own business.

So, seriously. Sandals. They make a world of difference. Try the other stuff too, see a doctor, a podiatrist, an herbalist, and whoever else you'd like. But get some sandals and let your freak feet fly.
posted by lekvar at 12:29 PM on August 4, 2009

I haven't tried this yet, but I just heard someone recommend using Stridex pads to wipe the feet at night then moisturizing and wearing socks to bed for a week. Something about the salycilic acid in the pads supposedly takes care of cracked heels.
posted by maloon at 1:16 PM on August 4, 2009

Hi there --

I am Kloryne's husband (she made me say that).

I have NASTY athlete's foot on one foot. I've had it on and off for about ten years. At it's worst, it's like... zombie toe. Or raw steak. And very smelly. EW. Also on the same toe, big toenail is kinda nasty. I probably have it way worse than you do. I have seen several podiatrists and they have all been wacko.

I am currently almost through a new treatment with a new podiatrist who seems to know what she's doing. It works! Let me just tell you about the treatment, maybe this might be helpful.

A) Get a plastic container, shoe-box sixed, from Target. Then, soak the foot in the following mixture = 1 quart warm water, 2 tablespoons epsom salt, and 1/3 cup of vinegar. Soak for ten minutes twice a day. This is apparently a bacteria killer.

B) When the foot is all dry... My podiatrist prescribed a gel oitment called Naftin. It is kind of expensive, but it totally works. There is also another one called Oxistat that is apparently really good as well, but I never needed it. Anyway, the Naftin -- apply two times a day after the foot is dry from the soak. USE Q-TIPS IN BETWEEN THE TOES to really get it in there, and apply liberally.

C) I had gnarly open sores from athlete's foot, so I also applied plain old Neosporin after the Naftin. But I think I'm more zombie-fied than you.

D) After applying the medication, use 2X2 gauze pads (found at the local Rite-Aid) in between the toes, and gently tape them into place using cloth medical tape (don't wrap tightly, just use tape as placeholder).

E) DON'T WEAR SHOES AT ALL. Be barefoot as often as you can. Or wear flip-flops or sandals, whenever possible. People will ask, what's wrong with your toes? Make up something vague and make them feel bad for asking. :)

F) I have no idea if this works, but NEVER USE THE SAME TOWEL TWICE after showering. Once you use it, put it in the laundry and don't look back.

G) For nail fungus, I was prescribed a medication called Tineacide. It seems to work. Otherwise, apparently there is a laser treatment specifically for nail fungus.

H) For callouses, I can't tell you. I have to wait one or two more weeks for the crazy open sores to heal before I can do anything about that.

I) Apparently, synthetic socks are better than cotton socks for keeping away moisture. That's what I was told by my crazy podiatrist who has paintings made by her patients, depicting her as a super-nurse, magically touching feet. Whatever.

J) SEE A PODIATRIST. Apparently I had a crazy infection and needed antibiotics in addition to all this stuff.

K) One more thing -- I have been told, time and time again, this sometimes has nothing to do with being clean. Sometimes it can just happen.

Anyway, I am almost through treatment -- I wouldn't write if I was still zombie-feet-fied. I hope this is helpful!
posted by Kloryne at 9:43 PM on August 5, 2009

Word: Synthetic fibers are good for your feet. Whoever above said to avoid them, is ignorant. Fungus has no use for synthetic fiber, it evolved to eat organic stuff. Socks are the single place where I find synthetics are preferable. Otherwise, I can't tolerate synthetics against my skin.

Sandals vs. shoes: Anecdotal, but I find my feet are happy enough in sandals, except for my Nike sandals, which have unpleasant plastic straps and cause some itching. My flipflops have cloth straps, and don't bother me. However, in cold weather, I must wear socks or my feet get cold sweat, and then disaster. When the weather changes, my feet tend to dry out when first going back to no-socks, then they recover. So, beware of changes that are simply due to temporary adjustments.

Callouses: Sometimes these are from fungus, not always. My partner has this problem, and when I read that this can be a form of athlete's foot, I got the appropriate ointment for him. No improvement resulted. His father also has the problem, and claims there is no cure. My partner's feet have been so bad that they wore a hole in his bottom sheet!

You can grind the callouses, and I see no evidence this makes them worse. But my partner uses a powered manicure set to do this, it's easier than the manual file. I tried it myself on some callouses, and mine improved.
posted by Goofyy at 3:21 AM on August 6, 2009

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