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Face it: Flip-flops rock. They keep your feet cool, they’re easy to throw on and they come in a zillion colors and styles just about anyone can love. They’re casual. They’re fun. They’re friendly.
They’re also pretty terrible for your feet.
All this matters, because we're coming up on in flip-flop season. So let the numbers speak for themselves: Of all the emergency room visits due to shoe-related injuries, 27,000 were associated with flip-flops in 2016, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission on emergency room visits.
"Wearing flip-flops is better than going barefoot because they do provide some protection for the bottoms of your feet, but that's about it," said Dr. Christina S. Long, a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, in a recent interview.
"Flip-flops don't offer any arch or heel support, and you have to grip them with your toes to keep them on. Wearing them for too long or for the wrong activity can cause a lot of different problems."
Podiatrists blame flip-flops for blisters, bacteria, viral infections, bad posture, shooting pains, bunion exacerbation (and formation!), hammertoe issues, athlete’s foot and lack of arch support.
In a 2008 study, researchers at Auburn University found flip-flops actually change the way wearers walk, sometimes permanently. Those changes can wreak havoc on the rest of the body, with distinct and noticeable effects on everything from the wearer’s posture to their gait.
What does all this mean? Should you dump all 23 pairs in the trash this minute?
Well, not exactly. (And besides, we know you’re not really going to listen when we tell you to break up with those bad boys.) Like chocolate cake and red wine, flip-flops are totally fine in moderation.
But we do think you should heed these tips for keeping your exposed feet happy and healthy:
Don’t drive and flip-flop.
That’s a really bad idea. Just like any backless shoe, there’s a possibility your flip-flops will slip off your feet and get stuck under the brake or gas pedal. Driving shoes should always be sturdy and secure. If you're not worried about your own safety, think about everyone else on the road. And, ladies, you already know the problems with driving in stilettos. Sandals might be slightly more unassuming, but the danger's still there.
Consider the activity
Flip-flops are fine for short-term use, especially if they have at least some arch support and a cushioned sole, Long said.
"They're good to wear at the beach, around swimming pools, in showers and locker rooms at the gym, on short trips to the store," she noted.
Don't wear them for running, hiking, walking long distances, standing for a long time or playing sports, she advised. Sandals may be a better option, but they're still not as supportive as running shoes if you're going to be active.
Be a big spender.
We don’t like overspending, either. When there's a perfectly OK plastic version sitting right there on the shelf, we're gonna reach for it. But the truth is, some things are just worth the investment. Your feet and well-being, for instance.
And unless you’re shopping in a totally unreliable store, then we’re pretty sure that the more money you pay for your shoes, the more likely they are to provide arch support. On the whole, flip-flops aren't the most expensive shoe form, and you’re bound to get a ton of use out of them. So pay up!
“Broken in” doesn’t have to mean “beautiful.”
Just like you would with running shoes, you should replace your flip-flops every few months. A little wear and tear is cute. A lot is dangerous.
Look where you’re going.
Flip-flops offer little to no protection against broken glass and other sidewalk debris. If you’re not willing to give your feet a cover, then at least keep your eyes open and remain alert.
Treat. Yo. Self.
And we’re not just including this one because we like pedicures. Promise. It’s important to keep your feet clean, moisturized and pampered. For one thing, everyone can see them, so you really might as well keep them looking their best. But in general, it’s a good idea to treat your feet kindly after they’ve been exposed to so much sun and dirt and water. And sunscreen is crucial.
Go for leather flip-flops, if possible.
The American Podiatric Medical Association reminds usthat leather makes it less likely for you to get a blister. Bonus points: You’ll get that rustic, well-worn look without having to actually break the shoes in too much. Plastic doesn’t stand a chance.
Use common sense when you’re shopping.
Shoes aren’t supposed to fold in half. Nope, sorry, no exceptions there. (Your flip-flops can and should, however, bend just at the ball of the foot.) And one-size-fits-all isn’t really a thing when it comes to foot safety.
The best flip-flops for women
- 1. Vionic Women's Tide II Toe Flip-Flop, $40+, Amazon
This podiatrist-designed flip-flop is perfect for the beach, because of its built-in orthotic footbed.
- 2. Vionic Women's Bella II Sandal, $44, Amazon
These cute flip-flops can easily take you from the grocery store to lunch with the girls. The best part? They're designed by podiatrists to increase stability and realign your feet.
- 3. Reef Women's Cushion Bounce Court Leather Flip-Flops, $30+, Amazon
Leave blisters behind with these adorable leather Reef sandals. They also come with arch support.
- 4. Olukai Women's Ohana Sandal, $44+, Amazon
This TODAY favorite sandal lasts a long time, feels supportive and is available in 39 colors.
- 5. Crocs Women's Capri V Sequin W Flip-Flop, $16, Amazon
Reviewers praise these flip-flops for having good arch support that allows wearers to comfortably walk a decent distance.
The best flip-flops for men
- 1. Vionic Men's Ryder Thong Sandals, $39+, Amazon
This versatile men's flip-flop combines the best of style and comfort. According to the brand, these shoes are clinically shown to alleviate heel pain and plantar fasciitis.
- 2. Reef Men's Contour Cushion Sandal, $31+, Amazon
Men will love that they can still look put together in flip-flops with this dark leather finish.
- 3. Teva Men's Pajaro Flip Flop, $36+, Amazon
According to Teva, these "Amazon Choice" sandals are made to stabilize and support the foot even on uneven terrain. They're also treated with a zinc-based antimicrobial technology, which the brand calls Microban, to help combat stinky feet.
- 4. Quiksilver Men's Carver Suede 3-Point Flip-Flop, $21+, Amazon
Not only do these boast anatomically correct arch support, the numerous color options also make for a stylish choice.
- 5. OluKai Men's Ohana Sandal, $46+, Amazon
With more than 1,000 reviews and a 4.6-star rating, it's clear men love these. The footbed forms to the wearer's feet, and the lightweight materials are breathable and quick drying for easy use around water.
NBC News' Kathryn Nathanson contributed to this report. This story was originally published in May 2016.
For more summer essentials, check out:
- 15 cute, flattering maxi dresses to wear all spring and summer
- The best swimsuits to flatter every shape and size, according to a style expert
- 18 cute tote bags to take you from the beach to the office
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