An ingrown nail
"Tight shoes can compress your toes, forcing the flesh into the nail," says Jenny Salazar, a nail technician in New York City. Another culprit: Nails that are too short and curved in at the corners can dig into the skin, says Salazar.
Soak your foot in a tub of warm water three times a day to help reduce inflammation. If the pain and swelling don't subside within 48 hours, see a podiatrist, who will surgically excise the nail, says Suzanne Levine, D.P.M., a podiatric surgeon in New York City. In the future, cut your nails straight across and just beyond the tips of your toes. (Try Tweezerman Combo Clipper, $10, tweezerman.com.) And wear roomier shoes!
If they're yellow, thick, and flaky, you may have a fungal infection, says Lori Weisenfeld, D.P.M., a sports podiatrist in New York City. Otherwise, the yellowing is likely a stain caused by the chemicals in your nail polish.
Let your podiatrist diagnose the condition before you attempt to treat it. If it's a fungal infection, a series of laser treatments or oral meds will eliminate it. To keep it from returning, dry your feet thoroughly and sprinkle an absorbent powder into your shoes, since fungus thrives in moist environments. If nail polish is to blame, stick to those that don't contain harsh toxins. (Try Dr.'s Remedy Enriched Nail Polish in Peaceful Pink Coral, $17, remedynails.com.)
A bruised nail (or a missing one)
High-impact activities such as dancing and running can make your toes bang into the front of your shoe, causing a blood blister to form beneath a nail. Oh, joy.
Camouflage the bruise by applying a dark nail polish in a deep purple or khaki shade (try Butter London 3 Free Nail Lacquer, $14, butterlondon.com). If most of the nail has become detached because of the hematoma, it's going to fall off, warns Weisenfeld. While you wait for a new one to grow in, gently clip off the loose nail to prevent snagging and infection.
Walking around barefoot or in stilettos can produce tough, leathery patches on your soles--this is your body's way of protecting stressed skin. But if filing and moisturizing don't soften the calluses within three weeks, you may have athlete's foot, which can cause thickening and cracking of the skin, says Weisenfeld.
Gently use a callus file in the shower (try Sally Hansen Prep Your Pedi Foot Smoother Kit, $11, at drugstores), briskly swiping with medium pressure once a day--and no more. "Aggressive filing can actually make the callus thicker," says Weisenfeld. Follow up with a moisturizer that contains lactic acid or urea (a rehydrating chemical) to slough off dead skin (try Eucerin Plus Intensive Repair Foot Creme, $5.59, drugstore.com). If athlete's foot is causing your calluses, an over-the-counter antifungal cream should zap it (try Lotrimin AF Cream, $10, at drugstores). Just be sure not to discontinue use prematurely, says Weisenfeld, who suggests applying the cream every day for a month.
Fuzzy toes are genetic, says waxer Jennifer Paschall, co-owner of Strip Boutique in Los Angeles. If Mom has them, you likely do too!