When I was on the junior varsity basketball team in high school, I wasn’t surprised when I developed a case of scaly, itchy athlete’s foot. After all, I was an “athlete”, so I assumed it was a sign of dedication and hard work.
I was shocked when my mom told me the truth: it was due to poor foot hygiene, not my dribbling skills.
Fast forward nearly four decades, and I’m much more diligent about skincare. However, certain skin problems sometimes torment me, like many men. Here is an overview of two common problems and their solutions.
Symptoms of dry skin include scaly patches (with or without redness), itching, and general dryness. You can have dry skin all year round, from the sweltering heat of summer to the biting cold of winter. Sun exposure damages the skin, leaving it thinner and less likely to retain moisture over time. Additionally, aging skin produces fewer natural oils that keep the skin lubricated.
Processing. The first line of defense is a moisturizer that softens and smoothes the skin with water and lipids (fats). Some moisturizers draw water to the skin and seal it. Others prevent moisture loss by coating the skin with a thick, waterproof layer.
- Vaseline. This waxy, oily substance stops water loss without clogging pores. It can be used on its own but is also an ingredient in many moisturizers and ointments. Because Vaseline does not contain water, it is best used while skin is still damp after bathing to seal in moisture.
- Mineral oil. Mineral oil has the same effect but without feeling greasy. It should also be used when the skin is damp.
- Moisturizing lotions and creams. These products contain both water and oils. They are less greasy and more aesthetic than petroleum jelly or oils. Look for moisturizers that contain at least one of the following ingredients: glycerin, urea, pyroglutamic acid, sorbitol, lactic acid, lactate salts, or alpha hydroxy acids.
Prevention. Try a few changes to help prevent dry skin:
- Add moisture to the air with a humidifier or pan of water placed on top of the heater.
- In the shower or bath, use lukewarm water (hot water can dry out the skin, stripping it of natural oils).
- Choose soaps that are non-drying, without abrasives or irritants. Superfatted soaps or cleansing bars dry less than ordinary, liquid or antibacterial soaps.
- To retain the water that your skin absorbs while showering or bathing, apply a moisturizing jelly, oil or cream immediately afterwards.
Athlete’s foot is caused by dermatophytes, a group of fungi on the surface of the skin. Telltale signs include intense itching; cracked, blistered, or peeling areas of skin, especially between the toes; and redness and scaling on the soles of the feet. Dermatophytes thrive in warm, humid environments like swimming pools, showers, and locker rooms where people walk barefoot. The warm, moist environment of sweaty socks and shoes encourages them to grow.
Processing. First, try an over-the-counter antifungal ointment, cream, or powder, such as clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF, Mycelex, generic), terbinafine (Lamisil AT, Silka,) or miconazole (Lotrimin AF spray, Micatin) . Improvement of an infection can take weeks and recurrences are common. If symptoms do not improve after several weeks, see a doctor, who may prescribe antifungal pills.
Prevention. Keeping feet clean and dry is the best way to prevent athlete’s foot. Also do the following:
- Wash your feet well every day and wear a clean pair of socks after your bath or shower.
- Take the time to thoroughly dry your feet (including each toe and especially the space between the toes) after bathing, showering or swimming.
- Wear flip flops or sandals around public pools and in gym locker rooms and showers.
- Wear moisture-wicking socks that absorb sweat.
- Don’t wear the same shoes two days in a row. Give shoes a 24-hour break between uses to air and dry them.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of the last revision or update of all articles. Nothing on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your physician or other qualified clinician.
Comments have been closed for this post.