Workouts: Banish Painful Blisters


I was expecting warm, sunny days on a recent trip to Prague, so I packed two pairs of cute and comfortable sandals — only for it to rain the entire time I was there. Unwilling to let a little rain stop me from exploring the city, I trudged trough with wet feet, and came home with painful blisters that made my usual running workouts uncomfortable.

Even with limited footwear choices available, there are plenty of easy ways to prevent painful blisters — and to keep going once they’ve appeared.

Layers limit friction
Blisters are a bubble of fluid on the outer layers of skin often caused by friction, which can be the result of new shoes, loose-fitting socks as well as an individual’s foot structure and gait.

“Use petroleum jelly or an adhesive bandage on areas that you may get blisters,” says Dr. Suzanne C. Fuchs, holistic podiatrist and sports medicine and fitness specialist. “A good material is moleskin, but you can even use ChapStick to decrease the friction on areas that are prone.”

Dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, recommends anticipating problem areas before giving shoes a chance to rub feet uncomfortably. On a vacation, for instance, wear a piece of moleskin on feet, under socks. Socks can also be doubled up with a thinner synthetic protective layer under a heavier synthetic or wool layer. This is especially good for hiking or long days on your feet.

If your outfit doesn’t include socks or you want to be extra cautious, consider applying a slippery barrier to areas that might rub, before you put on your shoes. Dr. Shainhouse recommends Vaseline, talcum or baby powder, foot balms such as Badger foot balm and FootGlide, or an anti-chafing stick, such as Dr. Scholls for Her Miracle Shield anti-friction stick.

“Band-Aids are okay in a pinch, but they don’t stick once your foot is sweaty, and they can off with mild shoe friction,” she said.

COMPEED® products use hydrocolloid technology designed to act like a second skin and keep the blister cover in place even when feet get sweaty.

Avoid cotton
Fuchs recommends wearing socks with clearly defined heels instead of tube socks or socks that tend to bunch up, and be sure to watch the fabric.

“Cotton is actually a bad fabric,” Fuchs says. “It retains moisture instead of wicking it out. Acrylic and other synthetic-fiber socks are better choices. Merino wool is actually a great fabric to decrease moisture.”

Feetures! makes technical socks designed to keep feet blister-free and happy. With a variety of cushion options, Feetures! are designed to “become one with the foot” and wick away moisture.

Injinji Performance Toesocks are a great option for people prone to toe blisters. The company’s outdoor line is made of NüWool™, Merino wool that is optimal for all weather conditions. The fabric is soft and feels cozy on cold days. The socks are available in several cushion levels, heights and fun colors for a variety of activities.

Give shoes a test walk
Fuchs says breaking in new shoes gradually is key to happy feet — even if new running shoes seem comfortable and ready to go right out of the box.

“Sneakers as all shoes should definitely be worn around the house or around the block first,” she says. “It is best to walk in them before you run to make sure you have the right amount of support and motion control for your foot type and sport.”

Dr. Shainhouse adds that rotating shoes — for example, don’t wear the same ones two days in a row — prevents friction from occurring in the same place.

“Toughen your skin by wearing the shoes for longer periods each time, so your feet get used to them slowly,” she says.

Buy the right size
Shainhouse also offers tips for buying well-fitting shoes. “Running shoes should have about ½ inch from the longest toe. Smaller and your toes will hit the front of the shoe; bigger and your heel will lift out of the shoe and rub on the back of the shoe, causing a blister.”

Shainhouse says round- or squared-toe boxes (front end of shoe) will let toes have room to spread, move and prevent rubbing.

What your blisters are telling you
There’s important information in the placement of your blisters. Blisters on the back of the heels or feet mean that that area is rubbing on the back of the shoe, Shainhouse says. This will happen in stiff shoes that are not broken in. It will also occur if your heel is raising out of the heel box of the shoe, especially when shoes are too big. High heels that push your foot too far forward that your heel slips and comes out with every step can also be a culprit.

Orthotics or insoles can be used to keep your foot in place. Adhesive heel grips can also keep the foot from lifting out.

Blisters on the soles of the feet generally occur when you don’t wear socks and the lining of the shoe is not breathable or wicking. It can occur with socks, especially if they are not synthetic.

Try synthetic no-show sock liners or glides. “However, be careful with certain fabrics — walking long distance in lace ones can cause rubbing and blisters,” Shainhouse says.

Blisters on toes occur when shoes are too short or too tight and rub on the front or side of the shoe. You’ll notice blisters on the baby toes when wearing pointy high heels.

“Applying moleskin or a barrier in anticipation of rubbing in a certain area is a great plan to prevent a blister,” Shainhouse says.

When a blister needs to be drained
Most blisters will heel themselves, but if it’s large and painful, it’s OK to pop, Shainhouse says. Just follow her instructions to avoid infection.

1. Wash the skin and wipe it with rubbing alcohol.
2. Use a clean sharp needle – wash it with rubbing alcohol first.
3. Prick the tense edge of the blister.
4. Use pressure to push the fluid out.
5. Don’t remove the overlying skin — it will adhere to the wound and act as a natural, sterile bandage while the new skin forms.
6. Apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage until it begins to heal or dry up.

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