Ordering a pair of new sneakers usually means bracing yourself for the inevitable pain that comes with breaking them in. Yes, blisters are [insert English accent] “but a flesh wound,” but they’re a painful one that can lead to getting benched from your favorite workouts. You deserve to get all the satisfaction of shiny-new pair of shoes without the bloody heels, so I asked podiatrist Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, to share her own inside secrets for sporting new sneaks without turning your feet into a crime scene.
To beat blisters for good, Dr. Sutera says you first need to understand why they form in the first place. “Blisters are fluid build-ups under the most superficial layers of skin and can form in areas of motion, such as joints. They typically arise near bony prominences, which make contact with the shoe while running or walking,” she says. “That friction causes the layers of the skin to pull apart and form a little bubble, which in turn, fill with fluid.” Lovely, right?
As you’ve probably learned time and time again, you can experience blisters with any first-wear shoes that are too tight or even too big, but Dr. Sutera says they’re especially common in people who get their feet sweaty. (Sorry runners and cyclists!). “Blisters are your body’s way of warning you that there is a problem,” says Dr. Sutera. So when you do feel one cropping up, consider that your body’s way of leaning over to say: “Hey, pal! Your cute new [boots/heels/slides] are hurting me.” Then, you can take steps to remedy those foot wounds the same way you would a pimple, burn, or paper cut.
If you already have a blister or two, here’s how to help them heal
Whoever first said that “Time heals all wounds” was definitely referring to blisters. Or, okay, maybe not—but the message still applies. “The best thing to do is just leave the blister alone. In a few days, it will break and the fluid inside will drain on its own. If the blister is causing you discomfort, you can take action to express the liquid, very carefully,” says Dr. Sutera.
You can pop that blister, lean into the pain, and walk around barefoot for a couple of days. “Once the blister is flat, apply a dab of triple antibiotic ointment or cream, and cover it with a bandaid. Change the bandage every day for the next three to five days, until the blister has healed. If the areas get red and swollen and you see pus, those are signs of infection, so call your doctor for advice on what to do next,” says Dr. Sutera.
Wait it out and you should heal up right away. For now, just enjoy admiring your news sneakers from afar.
And here’s how to stop blisters from forming. For good.
You don’t always have to be on the defense when it comes to treating your blisters; Dr. Sutera says that, with the proper expert intel, you can master the art of preventing your feet’s foes from ever cropping up.
Rule number one? Choose your shoes carefully. “You can help prevent blisters by making sure your shoes fit properly, choosing natural fabrics over hard or stiff synthetics, and checking straps for nicks or other imperfections that might cause abrasions,” says Dr. Sutera. You should also make sure you’re choosing the size that’s just right for you (and getting professional help with this when you can). “Shoes that are too big create too much room for the foot to move around, causing friction. Shoes that are too small cause pressure point blisters. Shoes should fit just right with enough room in your toe box,” she explains.
Once you unbox your new pair and take a big sniff of that new-shoe smell, Dr. Sutera says to remember that you should never use your feet to break your shoes in. Instead, get a little crafty. “If the shoe is just a little snug at first and needs to be broken in, use a shoe spray to soften the shoe and a shoe stretcher overnight until the material gives a little,” she says. “Wear the shoes for a short while at home for about 20 to 30 minutes at a time daily for one-to-two weeks before a major event, if possible.”
Last but truly not least is to remember that Vaseline is a gift sent from beauty heaven that will never (or, okay, rarely) let you down. If you’ve done all of the work to ready your shoes to cradle instead of injure your feet, you can rub a layer of petroleum jelly on your heels and other blister-prone places before slipping on your socks and shoes and going on your merry way. “The Vaseline is used as a barrier to prevent some friction and rubbing,” explains Dr. Sutera.
And there you have it: That’s all the podiatrist-approved info you need to go the distance without having to tend to your wounds later.