Friction blisters are small pockets of fluid that develop in the upper layers of the skin in response to an injury from friction. Typically, they result from the constant rubbing of an object, such as a shoe or an ill-fitting item of clothing, on a specific area of skin.
A friction blister forms when friction causes the outermost layer of the skin to separate from the layers beneath. As a result of rubbing and pressure, the skin becomes flushed and hot, and the area may sting. Fluid then fills the gap between the layers of skin to cushion and protect the skin below.
In this article, we discuss the causes, treatment, and prevention of friction blisters.
Friction blisters occur most often on the hands and feet, which may rub against handheld tools or shoes. The blisters can occur due to continual rubbing over a long period or intense rubbing over a shorter period.
The following factors can make a person more likely to have a friction blister:
- wearing ill-fitting clothes or shoes that rub against the skin during movement
- sweating excessively or spending time in a damp climate, as it is easier for friction blisters to form on moist skin
- exercising frequently
- having an occupation that is very physical
- carrying extra weight while moving
- wearing tight, new, or uncomfortable shoes, which may repetitively rub the skin on the feet
- wearing socks that are thin or do not wick away moisture
- using or wearing tools or fabrics that are rough or hard
Certain health conditions, skin conditions, and medications may also make the skin more prone to blistering. These include:
- Epidermolysis bullosa: A group of diseases that result in blisters on the skin, some of which may be due to friction.
- Porphyria cutanea tarda: A metabolic condition that makes the skin more photosensitive, meaning that sun exposure can lead to blistering.
- Certain drugs: An adverse reaction to some medications may result in the formation of blisters.
The majority of friction blisters heal on their own within 1–2 weeks. However, a few simple steps can help reduce discomfort and minimize the likelihood of the blister becoming infected.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) notes that people can treat a friction blister in the following ways:
Protect and cover the blister
People can use a padded bandage, dressing, or soft Band-Aid to protect the affected area. If the blister is in an area subject to pressure, such as the bottom of the foot, padding might be a better option to help prevent further friction from aggravating the blister.
Hydrocolloid blister plasters can also help the blister heal faster by creating the moist conditions that the skin needs to repair itself. People can purchase these plasters at most drugstores.
Avoid the activity or clothing that caused the blister
By avoiding the activity or clothing that caused the blister, people can allow the skin time to heal. In the meantime, people can wear properly fitting and comfortable socks, shoes, or gloves that may protect against any further blistering.
Avoid popping a blister
However, if a friction blister is uncomfortable or likely to burst by itself, it may be preferable to drain the fluid in a sterile and controlled way. People can do this by:
- washing the hands thoroughly with soap and water
- sterilizing a small needle using rubbing alcohol or heat
- inserting the needle carefully and gently into the edge of the blister and allowing the fluid to drain out
- washing the area thoroughly with soap or disinfectant
- avoiding removing any of the skin, or “roof,” of the blister, as this helps protect the raw skin underneath
- applying petroleum jelly and covering the blister with a padded dressing or Band-Aid
Watch for signs of infection
Regardless of whether they drained it, people should watch the blister carefully for signs of infection over the next few days. If a person notices pain, swelling, discoloration, or pus, they should contact a doctor.
The following natural remedies may help a friction blister heal quicker and provide some comfort:
- Aloe vera: A
2019 systematic reviewof aloe vera found that its anti-inflammatory properties can improve wound healing and reduce the risk of infection. A person can try applying a thin layer of aloe vera cream or gel to the affected area two or three times a day until the skin heals.
- Eucalyptus oil: A
2017 studysuggests that eucalyptus oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits. People can purchase a cream or ointment containing eucalyptus and follow the directions on the packaging.
- Petroleum jelly: The AAD recommends petroleum jelly as a method of keeping wounds moist, which aids healing. A person can apply it as often as necessary to prevent the wound from drying out.
- Tea tree oil: People have used tea tree oil for hundreds of years as a natural treatment for infection, and research notes that it has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving properties. People wishing to try tea tree oil ointment or cream should follow the directions on the packaging.
People can help prevent the friction that causes blisters by:
- wearing well-fitting, worn-in shoes, and boots with thick, soft socks that wick away moisture
- wearing new shoes or boots for short periods only until they are comfortable
- stopping activities or removing shoes or items of clothing immediately if they seem to be irritating the skin
- protecting the areas of skin prone to friction blisters with preventive dressings, pads, and cushioning products
- using insoles and orthotics to reduce pressure points on the feet
- applying talcum powder or antiperspirant to the feet as a short-term measure to combat sweat
- wearing protective gloves for the repetitive use of hand tools or during sporting activities
Friction blisters are a common complaint, but a person can often treat them effectively at home by protecting and covering the blister or trying natural remedies to promote healing. People can also take steps to prevent further friction blisters, such as wearing well-fitting shoes and applying antiperspirant to keep the skin dry.
People who are worried that their friction blister needs further treatment or is showing signs of infection should speak with a healthcare professional.