Jenilee Matz has a master’s degree in public health and worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a health communications specialist. She writes for several health publications including Everyday Health, HealthDay, and Diabetic Connect.

Summertime is synonymous with strappy sandals, barefoot walks on the beach, and dipping toes in pools, oceans, and lakes. But for people with diabetes, these seemingly innocent acts can cause harm.

Getting a blister, scrape, or other foot injury may seem like no big deal. However, any injury is an invitation for infection. Having diabetes makes it harder for the body to fight off infections, which can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels and lengthen the healing process.

What’s more, chronic high blood sugar levels from diabetes can damage the nerves in your body, including the nerves that supply the feet. This type of nerve damage is called diabetic neuropathy.

Diabetic neuropathy can lead to pain and numbness, impair your ability to feel hot and cold, and cause a “pins and needles” feeling in your feet. This means that you may walk around with a foot injury and not even notice it. Even a small scrape on your foot can cause an ulcer (open sore). When left untreated, ulcers can lead to amputation.

5 tips to avoid injuries and care for your feet

  1. Never go barefoot. Don’t walk barefoot on the beach, at the pool, or on pavement. This will stop you from stepping on something and getting hurt, and it will also prevent burns from hot sand.

  2. Resist the urge to wear uncomfortable shoes. Trendy sandals and flimsy flip-flops may look cute, but they’re not worth the risk. Always wear comfortable shoes that fit well. Make sure the inside of your shoes are smooth and nothing rubs against your feet. It’s best to always wear socks with shoes.

  3. Apply sunscreen to your feet. Lathering the tops and bottoms of your feet and toes with sunscreen will keep them from getting burnt.

  4. Be wary about getting pedicures. The American Diabetes Association says it’s safe for people with diabetes to get pedicures under certain conditions. First, make sure you don’t have any foot complications. Skip a pedicure if you have a cut or uncontrolled neuropathy. Then, make sure you choose a clean salon with a good reputation. Tell the technician that you have diabetes—they should fill the tub with cooler water and give you a gentler massage. Request that he or she not clip your cuticles or file your calluses, and ask that he or she trim your toenails straight across.

  5. Stay on top of your foot care. Keep up with your regular foot care habits:

    • Check your feet for injury each day, and treat wounds right away. See your doctor if an injury doesn’t heal.

    • Wash your feet thoroughly each night. Then apply a lotion to your feet, but do not put it between your toes.

    • Keep your blood sugar in check. The best way to reduce your risk of all diabetes-related complications is to follow your treatment plan as directed by your doctor.