Even with diabetes, your feet can last a lifetime, and they stand a better chance of doing so if you treat them with tender, loving care. That includes giving them a daily inspection for cuts and abrasions as well as asking your doctor to examine them periodically for any signs of nerve damage, such as loss of sensation, or reduced blood flow, such as coldness or hair loss on the feet and legs.
The tools or products you use on your feet at home can have profound effects on their health, particularly if you have any degree of nerve damage or reduced blood flow in your feet. Using the right products can help to keep your skin — and feet — intact, while using the wrong ones can lead to breaks in the skin, which can allow bacteria to enter and, in the worst-case scenario, lead to foot ulcers.
Here, then, is your guide to over-the-counter foot products, including some that are safe to use and some to avoid.
Soap Washing your feet with warm or tepid water and soap every day keeps them clean and gives you a good chance to do that daily inspection. (If it’s hard to see your feet, run your fingers over them to feel for calluses or sore spots. The backs of your hands are sensitive to heat and can be run over your feet to find hot spots, which can indicate infection.)
There must be at least 50 varieties of soap on the shelves of most drugstores — liquid soaps, solid bar soaps, scented soaps, unscented soaps, etc. Which to choose? In general, bar soaps are a better choice than liquid soaps, and soaps that have moisturizing lotion in them are the best choice of all. The compound in soap that gives it its lather is a fatty acid called lanolin, and the more lather, the softer the soap. In most cases, bar soaps have more lather than liquid. The moisturizer is important because dry skin can lead to cracking and the entry of bacteria into the skin. It is much safer to be moist than dry.
If a soap feels gritty or granular, don’t use it; you never want to use an abrasive on your feet. Perfumed soaps may cause skin reactions in some people, resulting in redness and swelling, so for these people, unscented soaps are best.
Moisturizing lotion Applying a moisturizing lotion to your feet once or twice a day can also help keep your skin healthy and moist. In general, thick lotions do a better job of moisturizing than thin, “watery” lotions, but it’s important not to overdo it with moisturizer. Skin that is too soft and moist can break down or become a breeding ground for infections. Putting lotion between your toes is generally discouraged, since the skin between toes tends to stay moist naturally; adding lotion there would overmoisturize that area.
Callus, corn, and wart removers Even with the best foot care, it would be hard to go through life without developing a callus or corn on your feet. Both calluses and corns are thickened areas of skin that result from pressure and friction on a part of the foot. Ill-fitting shoes are a common cause of calluses and corns. To a certain degree, calluses and corns protect the foot; without that layer of thickened skin, pressure or friction might cause an open wound. But very thick calluses and corns can press into the foot, causing pain. And in a person with diabetes, a callus or corn can actually be a thin layer of hard skin covering a much deeper wound or ulceration.
With that in mind, it seems like a good idea to remove calluses and corns, but the drugstore is not the place to start. The active ingredient in over-the-counter corn and callus removers — whether packaged as a liquid or a medicated pad — is acid, and acid can eat away live skin as well as dead. If your skin tends to heal slowly, even one application of these products can lead to the creation of a wound that can take months or even years to heal. If you have troublesome calluses or corns on your feet, see your podiatrist for advice and treatment. Never use an acid product on any part of your feet.