Does Blister Prevention Work Better With The Skin Wet Or Dry?
Friction levels are higher on MOIST skin, compared to VERY DRY (or VERY WET) skin!
We've known this since the early blister research in 1955 by Naylor. And that’s why athletes strive to keep their feet dry - in an attempt to stop blisters. We’ll leave the “very wet” end of the scale conversation for another time.
You’ve got 4 skin-drying options:
A lot of moisture comes from sweat. Antiperspirants can help reduce this moisture. Any old ‘under-arm’ antiperspirant might be enough if you don't sweat a lot or you're not particularly active. But is it really possible to stop foot perspiration when exercising? Some stronger antiperspirants have been found to be irritating to the skin (Knapik et al, 1995 & 1998) and are not in common use.
2) Moisture-Wicking Socks
These are specialised synthetic blend socks that have the ability to wick moisture from the skin to the outside of the sock in order to be evaporated through the shoe. To work well, you need to be wearing a shoe with a breathable upper – like the mesh of most joggers. Water-proofed hiking boots are probably not going to allow evaporation but at least the sock will hold some sweaty moisture away from the skin. Look for the words “Coolmax”, "Dri-Fit" or “Moisture-wicking”, there are lots of brands making this type of sock. If you'd like to learn more about the moisture-wicking ability of different sock materials, read this article by American Podiatrist Doug Richie: http://www.aapsm.org/socks-and-your-feet.html
Powders have the ability to soak up moisture and might do just enough to keep your skin dry. Unfortunately, powder will disperse over time and will require reapplication to maintain dryness. Reapplying is better than using too much in one application because what you'll end up with is a pasty lump of goo that will lodge somewhere (often between the toes) and cause a blister (or fungal infection) elsewhere. I review some of these in this video (but mostly the lubricant side of the equation).
4) Other Skin Drying Methods
Many people swear by preparing their feet for an event weeks in advance with drying applications like strong salty water, cold black tea, Condy's crystals, alcohol wipes etc. These preparations do dry the skin and will allow you to start with dry skin! But I'm not sure you can expect the skin to stay dry for long. There is no skin friction or blister prevention research on these preparations. But these methods are favoured by some of the most extreme athletes.
The Practicalities Of Keeping Your Feet Dry?
It’s understandable that skin drying strategies can help prevent foot blisters. But it’s also understandable that for some people, they just don’t do enough. Add one of the following factors and you quickly realise that a “very dry” in-shoe environment might be all but impossible to achieve:
Strenuous or prolonged exercise
Hot and humid climate
Dew, rain or snow
Creek or river crossings
Drink stations and tipping water over your head
If You're Blister Prone
If you're doing your best to keep your skin dry but still getting blisters, you'll need to cut friction levels some other way. You've got two options:
Use a lubricant on the skin - but read this first.
Get an ENGO Patch into your shoe - read about how they cut friction levels between the shoe and sock. ENGO's coefficient of friction is very low (see below) and it stays this low regardless of how wet, dry or moist it gets in your shoe. So it won't matter whether your feet get really sweaty, how hot it is, whether it rains or whether you tip water over your head at the drinks station. Click the link above to find out the pros and cons of Engo Patches.
Planning An Event Or Adventure Where Maceration Will Be An Issue [Trench Foot]
I’ve written three comprehensive articles on what maceration is, how to treat it and how to prevent it. There are some pretty nasty pictures in there of athletes suffering with various degrees of “trench foot”, so don’t say I didn’t warn you! Needless to say, prevention is the key, so at least read the last article.
Written by Rebecca Rushton
Rebecca is an Australian podiatrist with over 20 years experience. She has spent a lifetime dealing with her own blister prone feet in her sporting and everyday life. Rebecca specialises in helping athletes and sports medicine professionals figure out how to manage foot blisters with ease. And for kicks, she enjoys providing blister care at multiday ultramarathon events.