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Perfect Pedicures in 12 Simple Steps

Pedicure Tips

You don't need to book an expensive salon appointment to get the perfect pedicure Who doesn't love wearing sandals in the summer? They're cool, comfortable and best of all, they give you a sense of freedom. But before you shed your socks for the season, take a good hard look at your feet. Chances are, you've had them hidden away in boots and shoes all winter, rarely giving those toes a second thought. Unfortunately, it probably shows. But don't get discouraged; all it takes to put your best feet--and toes--forward is regular care. Even better is knowing that you don't need to go to the salon to do so; you can give yourself a professional-looking pedicure right in your own home.

"Polished, well-groomed toenails, like lipstick, are part of a woman's image," says Manhattan podiatrist Suzanne Levine, M.D., author of Your Feet Don't Have to Hurt (St. Martin's Press, 2000). But pretty toes are about more than just vanity. "Regular foot and nail care is a way of warding off painful problems like ingrown toenails, calluses, foot cracks and even infections," explains Levine. (See box on p. 97.) And even though each foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, 100 ligaments and thousands of sweat glands, most of us don't give our feet the regular care they need. So it's understandable why nearly 90 million Americans complain of chronic foot pain.

So, not only are we going to tell you how to give yourself a great pedicure, we're also going to tell you how to refresh those tired feet. Then you can strap on some sandals, wiggle your toes and flaunt your feet all summer long.
Tools of the Trade

To perform a home pedicure, you need the right instruments. Quality clippers, exfoliators and cuticle pushers are three of them, all well worth the investment. Not only can you use them at home, but you can bring them to the salon if you elect for professional treatment--this will help prevent bacterial infections that can develop when professionals use poorly sanitized tools. Here's everything that you will need.

  • An electric bubbling foot bath (optional).
  • A toenail brush to clean both the tops and undersides of the nails, as well as the feet.
  • An abrasive pedicure file (wand exfoliator) or pumice stone to get rid of dry, flaky skin.
  • A metal cuticle pusher or wooden "orange" stick, a round stick about four inches long with a slanted tip for cleaning under the nails and around the cuticles.
  • A massaging foot roller (optional).
  • Toenail clippers made to cut thick, hard nails without tearing them.
  • Fine-grained nail files or emery boards for shaping and smoothing nails.
  • Foam toe dividers (or cotton balls) to separate toes when applying base, polish and top coats to prevent smudging.
  • A nail buffer to shine the tops of nails before you polish them or to give bare ones a natural, healthy look.
Once you have the right tools, set aside about an hour to get your feet and toes worthy of being in the limelight.

1 Soak It Up

The first thing you should do is soak your feet in warm (not hot) water in your bathtub, a small foot tub or foot bath for five to 10 minutes. "Add a few drops of essential oils like rosemary and peppermint to invigorate your feet during an early morning pedicure, or add drops of lavender or rose to help relax them after a long day," suggests aesthetician Stephanie Tourles, author of Natural Foot Care (Storey Books, 1998). A few drops of tea tree oil or clove oil in your foot bath can also help treat fungal infections, she says, and a couple of drops of pine, tea tree, lemongrass or eucalyptus oils can banish odors. Then, as your feet are soaking, use a toenail brush to clean your nails and feet.

2 Scrub-a-Dub-Dub

Once the warm water has softened the skin on your feet, gently scrub the bottoms--concentrating on the heels--with an exfoliating scrub and pumice stone or abrasive pedicure file. You can also use a natural oatmeal-based exfoliator, suggests Tourles. Simply mix 1/4 cup of oatmeal with 1/8 cup of water until it is the consistency of a grainy paste, then gently rub it all over your feet in small circular motions. Be careful not to exfoliate too much of the outer skin away. This thick layer acts as the body's protection--which is why many podiatrists advise against using a callus razor (a special device used for shaving dry skin from the feet).

3 Cuticle Control

Dry your feet, making sure to get between the toes, an area that can become a breeding ground for bacteria and cause infection if not dried properly. Then massage a cuticle cream into the cuticles, or use almond, avocado or olive oil around the base of your toenails. Gently push back the cuticles with an orange stick, but don't cut them since they provide protection between your nail and nail bed, the whole piece of skin that the nail is attached to. It runs from the bottom of the white tip of the nail to the base of the cuticle. (You can also take the orange stick and gently run it along the undersides of your toenails to clean them.)

Finally, place a tiny drop of one of the cuticle oils onto each nail, and buff them to increase their strength and shine.

4 Rubbing It In

Using small, circular motions, massage your feet and ankles with a moisturizer mixed with a touch of your favorite essential oil (like rosemary, peppermint or eucalyptus), or just massage a little coconut, olive or avocado oil mixed with essential oils into your feet. If you want, you can splurge on a footsie roller (see "Editors' Picks," p. 98) and give yourself a home foot massage. (A rolling pin will also do the job.) Roll each foot over the device for about five minutes, and then slip on a pair of cotton socks for about 15 minutes to help your feet absorb the moisturizer.

5 Short and Sweet

It's much easier to cut thick toenails after moisturizing (which is why this step comes now). Cut them with a straightedge toenail clipper, leaving the nail length closer to the tips of your toes than to the nail bed. (If you cut them too short, they're more likely to grow into the skin, causing painful ingrown toenails.) Then file and shape your nails, making sure to file them in one direction. Sawing back and forth will weaken nails, causing them to split or break.

6 Pre-Polish Prep

Clean the oil and debris from both the tops of your nails and beneath them with a piece of cotton wrapped around an orange stick that you dip into a non-ace-tone nail polish remover (it will be stated on the label). Be sure to separate your toes with cotton balls or foam toe separators to keep them from rubbing against one another and smudging the polish.

7 Polished to Perfection

Once you've moisturized, filed and cleaned your toenails, apply a clear base coat of polish--this will help your pedicure last longer. Then apply two coats of color and finish with a top coat, which will help set the polish. For natural-looking toenails, give them a French pedicure. First buff them to a nice luster, then use a white nail pencil (available at any drugstore) to paint a white stripe over the top of the nail tips and finally paint a pale pink polish on the surface. No matter what type you use, polish takes at least 15 minutes to dry. Use the time to put your feet up and relax.

8 Tool Check

Clean your instruments with soap and water each time you use them so your nails don't get infected. Then twice a month you should sterilize them by rinsing them with 90 percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol. Store your tools in a clean plastic container or a zip-lock bag.

A full pedicure takes about 70 minutes: 50 minutes to prep the feet and apply polish and 20 minutes to dry. If you don't have the time, simply wash your feet while you're in the shower and give them a quick rub with a pumice stone or foot file. Then, after you dry off, slather your toes and nails with a moisturizer. Do this at least once a week so your skin doesn't become flaky.

bunions and heel cracks and corns, oh my!

Most of these common foot complaints are easy to treat on your own. Extreme cases, however, must be dealt with by a podiatrist.

  • Dry feet and brittle nails: These can be caused by a diet deficient in fat and certain vitamins. To get healthy feet, "add one or two tablespoons of organic, cold-pressed flaxseed oil to your diet every day," suggests aesthetician Stephanie Tourles, author of Natural Foot Care (Storey Books, 1998). Other vital nutrients are vitamins E (found in whole grains and green leafy vegetables) and C (red peppers, citrus fruits), biotin (a form of vitamin [B.sub.6] found in molasses and milk) and silica (unrefined grains, cereals, root vegetables). To spottreat brittle nails, caused by frequent use of polish and polish removers, rub some olive or vitamin E oil into them twice a day.
  • Ingrown toenails: Too short nails can become painfully imbedded in the soft tissue of your toe. This can also happen if you wear too-tight shoes or rip your nails off without cutting them--a bad habit that leaves jagged edges digging into your nail groove and possibly infecting it. Avoid this by regularly trimming your toenails straight across with clippers.
  • Yellow nails: If you wear dark polish regularly, you could develop stained nails. Skip the polish for a month and rub lemon juice onto them. Long, yellowish streaks may indicate onychomycosis, a fungal infection caused by microorganisms lurking in locker rooms, on shoes and clothes. Untreated, onychomycosis can cause nails to thicken, become brittle and flaky and separate from the nail bed. You must treat this with a topical or oral antifungal medication prescribed by a podiatrist.
  • Plantar warts: These contagious growths appear on the bottoms of your feet and are caused by a virus. You get them from walking barefoot in warm, moist environments like locker rooms, which is why you should always wear a pair of thongs in there. You can't treat plantar warts yourself; your doctor has to freeze them off or remove them with a laser or scalpel.
  • Calluses: These hard patches of skin that build up on soles and heels are caused by ill-fitting shoes and irregular foot care. For heavy calluses, Levine advises making a paste from 1 cup of kosher salt, 8 tablespoons of mineral oil, 1/2 cup of Epsom salt and 1 tablespoon of baking soda, and applying it to your calluses. Then put your feet into two separate plastic bags and wrap in a warm towel. Sit still for 10 minutes, unwrap the towel and plastic and use a pumice stone to slough off dead skin.
  • Corns: Untreated calluses can turn into even more painful corns. You treat these with special round or oval felt or moleskin corn pads available at your local drugstore.
  • Bunions: These inflammations of the joint of the big toe can be painful and unsightly, looking like big lumps. Switching to shoes that fit correctly (i.e., that aren't tight) may help relieve the pain and pressure on your big toe. But if the pain doesn't subside, your podiatrist may have to remove the bunion surgically.
  • Heel cracks: Neglecting to regularly moisturize your feet can lead to splits in the skin called heel fissures. To treat, apply moisturizer to your feet under a pair of socks every day after you shower or before you get into bed. If your fissures are painful and bright red, they're probably inflamed or infected, and you should see a podiatrist or dermatologist.

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