Bottom Line/HEALTH: I’m Sarah Hiner, president of Bottom Line Publications, and these are our Conversations With the Experts, where we get the answers to your tough questions from our leading experts.

Today we’re talking to Dr. Johanna Youner, who’s a leading podiatrist and foot surgeon in private practice in New York City. Welcome, Dr. Youner.

How do you know if you have athlete’s foot or just kind of a little bit gross feet?

Dr. Johanna Youner: Athlete’s foot can be itching, blistering—really, the doctor will be the one to tell you. If you have a rash on your foot, I would get to the doctor. It can be a simple dermatitis or an allergy to a shoe or a sock. But if it’s athlete’s foot, it’s an infection, and it will change quickly. It can spread very quickly.
Bottom Line: Will athlete’s foot last longer than a basic rash as well? It won’t go away?
Dr. Youner: Yes, athlete’s foot will last longer and worsen. It can be very, very itchy as well.
Bottom Line: Let’s look at a couple of images to see—peely feet. My daughter the athlete—her feet look like that regularly. But then it goes away. So is that “go to the doctor,” or no?
Dr. Youner: That’s go to the doctor and have the doctor prescribe an antifungal lotion—not a cream and not an ointment. A lotion or a gel. Something that dries between the toes. It should not be anything that can wet it, because it can break the skin down. This is an infection.
Bottom Line: This is an infection? Before you go to the doctor, can you try—if you just have a little bit of peely feet—an over-the-counter? Or always go to the doctor?
Dr. Youner: If you have feet that are peely and dry, that’s one thing. But if you have feet that are peely and itchy, you probably have an infection.
Bottom Line: OK, let’s look at another image. Now I’ve got a little bit of rash going.
Dr. Youner: This is go to the doctor, because this needs topical medication, and you also need to make sure that you’re using powder in your shoes and on your socks to make sure your feet are staying dry while this heals. This is an actual infection.
Bottom Line: Now, we spared everybody—we did not do the disgusting. I’m assuming that somebody knows if they’ve got green feet, if it really goes bad, they know now to come. All right, so for the most part, go to the doctor. What’s the self-defense against getting athlete’s foot?
Dr. Youner: Keeping feet dry, and changing your shoes—not wearing the same shoes day after day. At the end of the day, when you change your shoes, put powder in them. Allow the shoes to dry. When you wash your feet while taking a shower, wash and dry your feet, and then put powder on your feet.
Bottom Line: Is there any way that I should wash my socks in particular? Make sure that I wash them in hot to make sure that the fungus gets killed?
Dr. Youner: If they’re washed in a general washer, it should be fine.
Bottom Line: Will the fungus get into the shoes? Do I need to worry about it coming back?
Dr. Youner: If it’s a flip-flop that a bare foot has an infection next to it, yes, I would wipe up a flip-flop. I wouldn’t worry if you have a sock protecting your foot from the shoe.
Bottom Line: But then women who go barefoot in their cute little flats and all that, they need to spray.
Dr. Youner: There are ways that one can just spray with Lysol. If you do have an infection like that and you’re wearing your cute shoes, your shoes need to be sprayed.
Bottom Line: And once you get athlete’s foot, are you prone to it?
Dr. Youner: No. It’s just a contagious thing. And it’s worse in the summer, better in the winter. That’s a good summer picture we showed.
Bottom Line: The new rage now, when I bought ski boots or bought even hiking boots or sneakers, are these insoles, these inserts for support. Are they a help or are they hype?
Dr. Youner: Hugely helpful, and brilliant. When I was in school, these weren’t even available. These help ski boots…dress shoes. There are many brands out there, and they will straighten the foot out and prevent deformity.
Bottom Line: Should everybody put them in all their shoes?
Dr. Youner: I think every shoe should have a support in it. But make sure it’s the proper support for your foot. I think that is best judged by your doctor. Going to the drugstore and just picking one off the wall may not be the smartest and most cost-effective, because the doctor can probably direct you to the exact one for your foot, because feet are different.
Bottom Line: What’s your opinion on going barefoot?
Dr. Youner: Going barefoot is not something I really do anymore. I wear slippers in the house. You can step on glass in the kitchen…you can break your toe against your night table. I have seen so many injuries and splinters from going barefoot.

So if you have slippers that you like, wear them. Slippers can come with support now, so it may be more comfortable to go with slippers at night. If your feet hurt or are arthritic, slippers with supports may help you a lot more than going barefoot.

Bottom Line: What about the support for your feet when you’re barefoot? I mean, not necessarily just the safety of hitting things, but just the support of being barefoot? Because there were reports in the past that it was actually healthier, that man was born barefoot and that barefoot was better than some shoes.
Dr. Youner: Maybe for the biomechanically perfect person, that would be wonderful, but that’s still out there. Support is safer. Especially in the Western world, support is better.
Bottom Line: Is it OK to wear shoes barefoot?
Dr. Youner: it’s OK to wear shoes barefoot as long as you’re not creating blisters and as long as your shoes are clean. I really do like to use powder in shoes, especially if you’re going barefoot, because your shoes will pick up infection from your skin. So if you’re going to go barefoot, especially in the summer, use powder in the shoes—cornstarch.
Bottom Line: How will that powder prevent infection? By keeping the foot drier?
Dr. Youner: It’ll keep the foot drier, and it also will kill off fungus. Just simple baby powder with cornstarch in it will protect you.
Bottom Line: And then is it a good habit at the end of the day to spray them with Lysol, just to be sure?
Dr. Youner: I would do maybe twice a month to spray them rather than every day. An everyday habit is powder. Spraying with Lysol to protect you from anything—twice a month.