What actually is a blister?
"Blisters are fluid build-ups under the most superficial layers of skin and can form in areas of motion, such as joints," says Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, a podiatrist and Vionic Innovation Lab member. "They also typically form near bony prominences, which make contact with the shoe while running or walking. That friction causes the layers of the skin to pull apart and form a little bubble, which in turn, fills with fluid."
Yes, it can be painful. But there's a good reason for it. "A blister forms as a protective mechanism to protect irritated skin," says Marque Allen, DPM, FACFAS, a podiatrist at Sports Medicine Associates of San Antonio. "The fluid in them is filled with cells which are actually trying to heal and protect the skin. The bubble around that allows the area to begin healing."
It's helpful to think of skin on the top of a blister as a body-made Band-Aid. The skin and fluid layers of the blister develop to protect you from additional friction.
The most common causes of blisters on feet
Knowing what leads to blisters can help you prevent them from happening in the first place.
1. Your shoes don't fit properly
If you don't want a friction blister, you need to wear shoes that fit. "Shoes that are too big create too much room for the foot to move around, causing friction. And shoes that are too small cause pressure-point blisters. Shoes should fit just right with enough room in your toe box," says Dr. Sutera. Also important: "Choose natural fabrics over hard or stiff synthetics, and check straps for nicks or other imperfections that might cause abrasions."
2. Your feet are sweaty
Whenever your feet get moist, you're at risk for blisters. Ditch cotton socks for materials like polyester, nylon, wool, or any other options that have sweat-wicking capabilities. You can also grab some foot powder. "Using it on your feet can help absorb perspiration," says Dr. Sutera.
3. Your shoes are rubbing
If your favorite pair of shoes tends to rub your skin raw in a certain place whenever you wear them, don't toss them to the back of your closet just yet. Dr. Sutera has a hack that can help. "Slicking on products—such as a thin layer of an anti-blister balm like Gold Bond Friction Block Stick or Vaseline on your heels and toes—can help prevent your favorite shoes from rubbing you the wrong way," she says. "There are also moleskin and padding products you can purchase to put over delicate and blister-prone areas."
How do you make blisters heal faster?
So, if you want your blister to heal quickly, a podiatrist's advice for healing a blister is to remove it from the offending environment and get it dry, Dr. Allen says. This also means you should consider taking a break from walking or running or however you got it in the first place.
Next: Try to keep it clean, dry and leave it alone. We get it; having a blister is not always a pleasant feeling. But Dr. Allen says that you should not pop the blister because as soon as it has popped, it must be treated like an open wound that will take longer to heal. He says most blisters heal within a day if they don't get infected, picked at, or continually worn by a shoe. Yes, if you want to heal blisters overnight, just leave them be! Healing foot blisters simply takes a little patience.
Even though blisters can be painful, popping them will almost always make them feel worse, he says. This is because, when you drain that healing fluid, the two layers of skin will touch, and the raw skin beneath your blister will sting.
When and how to drain a blister
There are some exceptions to the no-popping rule. If a blister is excruciating and large and in an area where it might rupture, both podiatrists say it is all right to express the liquid—carefully. Here are Dr. Sutera's step-by-step instructions for safely draining a blister:
- Clean the area and your hands with soap and water.
- Wipe down a safety pin or needle with rubbing alcohol or Betadine ($13), a topical antiseptic you can buy in any drugstore.
- Gently pierce the top of the blister with a single pin prick, keeping the skin intact. Oftentimes, there’s so much pressure built up inside the blister that the fluid will drain out on its own. If that doesn’t happen, press the blister very gently.
- Keep the blister skin "flap" on the blister because it promotes much faster healing. Once the blister is flat, apply a dab of triple antibiotic ointment ($5) or cream, and cover with a bandage ($6 for 30 in your skin tone). This will also offer some pain relief for blisters.
- Change the bandage every day for the next three to five days, until the blister has healed. If the areas gets red and swollen and you see pus, those are signs of infection, so call your doctor for advice on what to do next.
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