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Running is great for you, but blisters can pop up (if you pardon the pun) and kill the vibe somewhat. Can you prevent them from appearing? And is there anything you can do about them once they develop?
What is a blister? The 411
Blisters result from friction against the foot, causing the outer layers of skin to rub together, separate, and fill with fluid (gross).
The culprit can be anything from new or poorly fitting running shoes to wet feet caused by nonabsorbent socks. Log enough miles, and they’re bound to develop.
How to prevent blisters: In brief
- Wear breathable, sweat-wicking socks made from either nylon or wool blend.
- Double up: Wear two pairs of socks to keep that friction to a minimum.
- Apply moleskin or bandages underneath your socks to areas that usually develop blisters when you run.
- Use powders and creams to reduce friction.
- Buy shoes that fit.
The quick guide to blister management
If a blister isn’t messing with how you walk or causing you pain, the first answer is “nothing.” It’s best to leave the skin intact to reduce your risk of infection. Most blisters will self-heal. It’s best to cover small blisters with an adhesive bandage, and larger ones with a gauze that lets it breathe.
- Wash your hands.
- Clean the blister with water and soap, rubbing alcohol, or iodine.
- Use rubbing alcohol and a clean swab or pad to sterilize a needle.
- Puncture the side of the blister in several spots close to the blister’s edge.
- Soak up the fluid with a clean piece of cotton or gauze.
- Apply antibiotic ointment.
- Cover the popped blister with a gauze and/or an adhesive bandage. If you’re using a gauze, secure it with medical tape.
- 2–3 days later, cut away and remove the dead skin using sterilized scissors or tweezers and rubbing alcohol.
- Apply more antibiotic ointment and a fresh bandage.
See a doctor if:
- The blister oozes yellow or green pus.
- The area becomes inflamed, red, and swollen.
Here’s our guide to treating and preventing blisters so you can keep those feet pounding the pavement (or trail) pain-free.
We’ve compiled a list of effective ways to spare your feet and keep you running for the long haul.
Sock it to ’em: Choose your socks wisely
The right socks are super important when it comes to blister prevention. Suitable socks will provide extra support for our feet, keep moisture away, and might just minimize the friction that leads to nasty blisters.
Steer clear of cotton socks. These soak up sweat and moisture and, as a result, are most likely to cause blisters. Try nylon socks instead, which allow for more breathability and less moisture buildup on the foot. Some runners also swear by wicking socks, a wool-blend sock that pulls moisture away from your feet.
If one pair of socks isn’t cutting it, try wearing two to cut down on blisters.
That way, any friction can happen between the two pairs of socks, rather than one pair of socks and your own skin. Sometimes, your shoes might not allow for this option — but if they do, it’s worth giving a go.
Try tapes and bandages
For spots on the feet that are notorious for blisters, it might be a good idea to stick moleskin or other soft but secure bandages before throwing on socks and hitting the pavement.
These can help you protect certain problem areas from the friction of your sock.
Prevent friction with powders and creams
Try a special foot powder like2Toms Blistershield. Simply pour it into socks to create a frictionless surface on the foot.
Other options for preventative care:
- Dr. Scholl’s Blister Defense Stick
- good ol’ Vaseline
Got a well-stocked pharmacy close by? They might be on shelves there. They’re also all available online.
Buy well-fitted running shoes
The least we can do for ourselves is make sure we’re wearing the right running shoes, right?
Before hitting the road, visit a specialty running store to make sure you’re wearing the best fit. A running specialist can also perform a gait analysis if blisters keep developing despite your use of bandages, creams, or other means of prevention.
If a blister isn’t too painful and isn’t preventing you from walking, then avoid popping it. It’s best to keep the blister intact to help prevent the risk of infection. Besides, blisters are pretty good at healing themselves when left alone. They’ll usually heal quicker if you resist the urge to pop.
Cover small blisters with an adhesive bandage, and large ones with a porous, plastic-coated gauze pad (so the blister can breathe).
What about when you really, really have to pop a blister?
Really, really try not to.
But if you feel like you *must* pop it, always check for potential signs of infection before touching a blister. If there are no signs of infection, follow these steps to pop blisters safely:
- Wash your hands. Don’t skimp on the water and soap!
- Clean the blister. Use a clean swab with water and soap, rubbing alcohol, or iodine.
- Sterilize a small, sharp needle. Use rubbing alcohol and a clean swab or pad to reduce the risk of infection.
- Take a deep breath. Try not to freak out about poking yourself with a needle.
- Puncture the side of the blister in several spots. Aim for spots close to the blister’s edge. Soak up the draining fluid with a clean piece of cotton or gauze.
- Apply antibiotic ointment. Then place your gauze and/or an adhesive bandage over the area, securing it with medical tape.
- Wait 2–3 days. Then, cut away and remove the dead skin using sterilized scissors or tweezers and rubbing alcohol.
- Repeat step no. 6. Apply more antibiotic ointment and bandage the area up again until it’s healed.
When to see a doctor
If you find a blister, call up your doc if:
- The blister is secreting yellow or green pus.
- The area becomes increasingly swollen or inflamed.
- You have any other reason to think it could be infected, like a fever.
- If more than one blister appears and you can’t figure out what’s causing them.
- If you have a known condition like diabetes, which can cause blisters. Skin symptoms might be a sign that you need to switch up how you manage your blood sugar.
Don’t get discouraged if one pops up early on in your running career. Just assess the issue (stat!), find a preventative method that works for you, and get back on the roads when the skin is healed and free from pain.
Choosing the right socks and shoes can help reduce how often blisters pop up, as well as applying creams, pads, and gauzes.
It’s *always* best to let a blister heal naturally. If you suspect an infection, get in touch with a doc or healthcare professional. They’ll be able to safely pop a blister while minimizing risk of infection. It’s possible to pop them at home, but this is best avoided.