"Many skin conditions that trouble runners can be quite annoying," says five-time marathoner Brian B. Adams, M.D., associate professor of dermatology and director of the Sports Dermatology Clinic at the University of Cincinnati. "They can cause such discomfort that they affect your performance or force you to stop." Luckily, the problems affecting your epidermis are mostly easy to prevent and treat. Here's how to be kind to your skin.
Are you steps away from a foot injury? How to spot the signs.
This fungal infection results in dry, scaly, red skin between the toes that can itch or burn. Because fungus thrives in warm, moist environments, summertime is a ripe time for athlete's foot. "Running in the heat magnifies the sweat production on the soles," Dr. Adams says.
Wear light, moisture-wicking, synthetic (not cotton) socks, says Stephen Pribut, D.P.M., a sports podiatrist in Washington, D.C. After you run, change out of your soggy socks and shoes and slip into dry after-sport shoes before you go for coffee or run errands. Don't stash your sweaty pair inside a dark gym bag or your trunk where they can't air out. You can also sprinkle antifungal powder on your feet before running.
Apply an antifungal cream for at least four weeks, even if symptoms appear to be gone in half that time, to make sure the infection is gone, says Dr. Adams. Soothe the itch by soaking your feet for 10 minutes in equal portions lukewarm water and apple-cider vinegar (which has antifungal properties). If the condition persists, see a dermatologist, who may prescribe an oral antifungal.
"This is probably the number-one raceday injury," says Paul Langer, a Minneapolis podiatrist and 26-time marathoner. These fluid-filled bubbles are caused by friction, excessive moisture (sweaty feet, wet weather), or shoes that are too small, too big, or tied too tight.
Buying properly fitted running shoes may sound like a nobrainer, but consider this: "Studies show that fewer than half of people's running shoes were fit correctly," Pribut says. Because your feet can expand a halfsize over a day, shop in the late afternoon or evening. If you've been on a running hiatus, don't assume you can jump into your old pair. As you age, your feet flatten and lengthen, so you may need to go up a size. If you get toe blisters, Bruce Williams, an Indiana-based sports podiatrist, suggests "toe socks," which fit like a glove (rather than like a mitten). Putting Vaseline, sports lube, and bandages over blister-prone spots may also help.
Stay Healthy: 10 Rules of injury prevention.
"Ignore blisters smaller than five millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser) since they're usually not painful," says Gregory G. Papadeas, D.O., a Denver dermatologist. But go ahead and pop doozies, especially if they hurt. With a sterile needle, prick the side of the blister and drain it. Don't remove the blister roof—cover it with an antibiotic ointment and moleskin or a bandage. If you feel a hot spot midrun, address possible causes: Are your socks bunching up? Is your heel slipping? Are your laces too tight? "If the blister hurts so badly that you're forced to change your gait, you're better off walking versus risking injury," Pribut says.