Are you generally happy with your feet? When you go barefoot, or wear sandals, do they earn you occasional compliments, or are your feet politely ignored? Or are they more like your secret shame, so unappealing that they never see the light of day?
I once had the pleasure of meeting Alejandra, a young Colombian woman who was beautiful enough to be a Miss Universe contestant, possibly even a winner. Her only flaw: Halloween feet! Her feet were so ugly, they discouraged her from romantic relationships. I was skeptical at first, but when she finally let me see them, I had to agree with her; although she was an overall 10, she had feet that wouldn't have scored higher than 1-2, at best. My first thought was that she was unfortunate not to have been born a mermaid. However, aside from a minor flaw in proportion, most of her podiatric problems could be remedied, with just a little TLC (Tender, Loving Care). She might have had close to every issue that feet can suffer. Let's look at some of these.
The problem of nail fungus is one that worsens when we're so self-conscious we rarely remove our shoes. Nothing encourages the condition more than a warm, sweaty environment, and shoes provide an ideal breeding ground for foot fungi. What makes the condition harder to eradicate is that it affects the living part of the nail. Many people try to attack it superficially, by covering it up with nail polish. Don't do it - more on this later. Another strategy is to spiff up the nails using an emery board, or worse, a Dremel tool. Can I just say, power tools are better left for shop projects? All you accomplish is to thin the nails and run the chance of further injury, either physically, or from bacterial infection. Really, most DIY solutions are either too dangerous, or just ineffective. If nail fungus is a very troubling problem for you, a doctor can prescribe Lamisil, Soranox, Penlac, Diflucan, or some similar drug taken by mouth. One caveat: these work by poisoning the fungus. Consequently, they're somewhat toxic to your liver, as well. About .01% of patients develop permanent liver damage, so it's something not to be undertaken lightly. That's about one person in 10,000, by the way.
Another fungal blight is commonly referred to as Athlete's Foot, but you don't have to ever see the inside of a gym to catch this highly communicable disorder. You can catch it pretty neatly from friends or family members. If you do use a gym, bring shower shoes (flip-flops), and your own towel. Most gyms don't wash towels with water that's hot enough, or use enough bleach to kill the fungal spores. The first sign of athlete's foot may be redness, itchiness between or around the toes, and odor. Feet are normally thought of as stinky, but strong, offensive foot odor is a sure sign of a bacterial or fungal presence.
The words "feet" and "stinky" are synonymous, in many people's minds. Yet, clean, healthy feet should be practically odorless. They shouldn't smell any different than your hands, after removing a pair of rubber gloves. If you want impeccable foot hygiene, just wash them well at least once each day, taking pains to use a nailbrush, and that should handle it. For knocking out more persistent bacteria and fungi, soak your feet in warm water with a little hydrogen peroxide added. Swabbing with alcohol or hand sanitizer works as a last resort, but it's good to avoid alcohol on the skin, as much as possible. The skin is almost as absorptive as the lining of your gastrointestinal tract. As a side note, the pH of healthy human skin should be slightly on the acidic side. The pH of most soap is too alkaline. (Soap is made using lye, a powerful base.) So, pick a soap that's not mass market, or at least one that's pH balanced. Poor quality and mass produced soaps contain Free Alkali, which will eradicate the protective "acid mantle" your body uses for protection. This same mantle helps with odor, as it happens. Skin so clean that it's "squeaky" is a sign that the mantle has been scoured off by too much Free Alkali in the soap you're using.
More than any other foot problem, this one is self-inflicted by a poor choice in shoes. Women especially abuse their feet with little, high-heeled, pointy-toed shoes that squeeze their toes together, and force the toe joints out of alignment, causing the unattractive. Initially, this can be altogether avoided by making the choice between pretty shoes and pretty feet. Pretty simple. Once you have noticed a bulge beginning to form, a full-fledged set of bunions can be avoided by buying shoes with lots of toe room. Here's another choice: modify your shoes, or modify your feet - surgically. The surgery is called a bunionectomy, and you'll be forced to wear really, really ugly shoes for about six months, while you recover from surgery. You might as well get the matching orange wig and rubber nose. Really, choose the right shoes -- sooner rather than later - a bunion, once started, is a bit like the collapse of the World Trade Center. It's progressive, hard to stop, and unnecessarily tragic.
Here's another instance where your shoe choice has victimized you. Your overly tight shoes have forced up the toe joint to rub against the inside of the shoe. Again, change shoes. Continue, without changing, and you will be forced to live with the unnecessary resulting deformity, or seek a surgical remedy.
Warts are a form of papillomavirus (HPV - not to be confused with HIV!), and they're not only infectious, but dangerous, as well. Observe strict hygiene. Especially in the bedroom, keep your feet to yourself. Warts can be spread to the genitals pretty easily. Women are at greater risk, since genital warts can move up into vagina, where they can cause cervical cancer, or in some cases, cancers of the vulva, vagina, or anus. Don't overreact, 90% of warts will go away within two years, or they can be hurried along by suffocating them with adhesive tape. If you're particularly anxious to be rid of them, a doctor can treat them with liquid nitrogen, acids, or CO2 laser.
Calluses are a form of hyperkeratosis, and are your foot's way of protecting you from too much weight, pressure, or chafing. This is just a thickening of the skin. It's not harmful unless extreme, but it can look rather unattractive. After first softening the skin with emollient cream, calluses can (gently!) be reduced with a slightly abrasive pad in the tub or shower. You don't want to do this on your desk at work, unless you want your desk to look like you detonated a snow globe. You also don't want to go too far, or use quasi-surgical tools.
Nail polish is toxic! That sounds drastic, I know. It's a time-honored ritual for women to turn the toes into little, hand-painted jewels. It's cute. Yet, the worst offender, the poster child of the toxic cosmetic industry is… nail polish! Almost all cosmetics are pretty bad, but nail enamels invariably include a variety of phthalates that compromise the endocrine and nervous systems. In addition, all nail enamels require solvents. Without solvents, the colorants would be inapplicable, but here's the problem with them. Acetone and toluene quickly evaporate into the air and are inhaled, thereby filling the respiratory system, from whence they're taken up by the blood, and from there, it's a short step to crossing the blood-brain barrier. Here, they starve and kill off brain cells, giving you that light-headed sensation popularly known as a "buzz". Anything you apply to the nails or skin, is also absorbed pretty quickly into the body, as well. Common solvents are so toxic, charcoal-activated air filtration is required by OSHA in the workplace, but we regular citizens are on our own. There are also benzophenones, which are known carcinogens and hormone disruptors. The list includes: aluminum powder (organ toxicity), Octinoxate (cellular changes, reproductive toxicity, organ toxicity), colorants (systemic toxicity, cancer), ferric ammonium ferrocyanide, titanium dioxide, sucrose acetate isobutyrate, and the list goes on.
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For invaluable information on skin health, including rough, chapped hands, dry or cracked feet, acne, psoriasis, eczema, or rosacea, go to www.okeeffesworkinghands.org or for GREAT tips on grooming for men, go to www.okeeffesworkinghands.org/10_grooming_tips_for_men.html
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