bare foot with lotion smiley face

You can see the evidence on your hands: Dry wrinkles, overgrown cuticles, chapped knuckles and itchy skin. The winter months, with their low humidity, sharp winds, and indoor heating, can strip skin of its moisture and leave hands unsightly and uncomfortable.

Did you know the same thing could happen to your feet?

Though your feet may not be as exposed to the outdoor elements as much as your hands are, they are still affected by the dry air, cold temperatures, and heavy, closed-toe shoes that come naturally with winter. Snow sports like skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling can also exacerbate foot problems, increasing the risk for blisters and aggravating bunions and circulation problems.

Fortunately, with a few caring techniques, you can keep your feet smooth and happy during the winter months, and help to reduce the time you'll need to become sandal-ready when summer rolls around.

Keep Feet Warm and Dry
Heavy socks and shoes can contribute to winter sweating, which can increase your risk of blisters, fungal infections, and foot odor. Choose socks made of moisture-wicking material like silk, fleece, or a polyester blend. Cotton is more likely to retain moisture, which will eventually make your feet cold. You may want to double-up with a light synthetic sock underneath and a warm thermal sock over the top. If it's wet outside, wear waterproof boots that will protect your feet, even if you have to change them once you get to the office.

If your socks do get wet, remove them as soon as possible, dry your feet and put on clean, dry socks. You may want to store some extra socks in the car or at work during the winter months.

Apply Extra Moisturizer
During the summer months, we're more likely to moisturize because cracked, scaling heels look horrible in sandals. During the winter months, however, we may neglect that daily moisturization. The air is dryer during the winter, so wrinkles, chapping, and cracking will occur more quickly than in the summer, which can lead to infections or painful walking--and leave you with damaged feet when the weather changes.

Always apply moisturizer before putting on socks, as the material will help lock in the hydrating effects. Avoid petroleum-based moisturizers like Vaseline, as they can actually contribute to long-term dryness. Instead, use nourishing lotions that contain aloe, shea butter, jojoba oil and honey. Exfoliate your heels about once a week so the moisturizer will be more likely to absorb into your skin.

Invest in Well-Fitting Shoes
A good, properly fitting shoe will go a long way toward helping you avoid foot problems in the winter. Unfortunately, many people enjoy wearing their sandals most of the year, so when they transition to closed-toe shoes they often find they don't fit correctly, crunching toes or causing blisters on heels. Wearing thicker socks in summer sneakers will also likely crowd the foot and leave you feeling sore. Particularly if you're engaging in winter sports, be sure your ski boots, ice skates, or other footwear fit well. Even the smallest blister can put you on the sidelines, so to stay active, shop carefully for all footwear items.

Stretch and Move Your Feet
Feet locked in heavy boots all day long can suffer from muscle cramps and circulation issues. If your feet hurt, take the boots off and flex and relax your toes, rotate your ankles, and perhaps take a short walk in your stocking feet. Stand up on your toes a few times, and pull your toes up to stretch the plantar fascia tendon at the bottom of your foot. Regularly stretching and moving your feet will help you avoid injury and increase blood flow to keep your feet warm. A quick massage and stretch before bed may also help you to sleep better.

Keep Nails Trimmed
One thing many people forget to do in the winter is to keep nails trimmed, especially if they forego their usual pedicure appointments. Remember that nail care isn't just to make nails pretty--keeping nails trimmed and filed helps you avoid ingrown toenails, yellowing nails, and cracked, sore nails. When moisturizing your feet, file your nails as well, or pamper yourself with a winter pedicure now and then.