Getting a pedicure keeps your feet looking sandal-ready, and with the wide variety of nail polish colors and applications available today, it’s also a fun and easy way to express yourself. Putting your feet into someone else’s capable hands is a wonderful way to unwind, too—a simple means of nurturing yourself from the outside in. What we often forget, though, is that pedicures are also procedures that promote and protect the health of your feet.
Whether you do it yourself or visit a salon, spa or doctor’s office (that’s right, some podiatrists now offer medically supervised “medicures”), you can look forward to these health benefits if your pedicure is done properly and in safe conditions:
- Cleaning feet banishes bacteria, helping prevent infection and keeping odor at bay.
- Exfoliating and moisturizing prevents dead skin from accumulating into calluses and corns.
- Carefully grooming toenails (clipped straight across and softly filed) prevents them from becoming ingrown, which can cause pain and lead to infection.
- Massaging feet and legs promotes circulation to ease aches, relieve stress and invigorate you all over. (Considering that the average adult puts 127,000 pounds of pressure on her feet each day simply by walking, we could all benefit from some relief.)
Foot Safety First
When it comes to your feet, use your head. Viral and bacterial infections resulting from unsanitary pedicure practices do happen, even when a salon looks “clean and professional.” To protect yourself:
- Consider your own health. Anyone with diabetes, poor circulation or neuropathy (numbness or burning in the feet) may be at greater risk of infection from a pedicure. Consult your doctor before you book one and with any questions.
- Inspect the tools… Inadequate sterilization of pedicure tools has led to the transmission of everything from warts and toenail fungus to more serious infections, such as hepatitis B and furunculosis (recurring boils). Ideally, implements should be sterilized in an autoclave (a box-shaped sterilizer). The second-best option is immersion in an anti-bacterial solution for at least 10 minutes; be sure the solution looks clear, not cloudy. Insist that, aside from nail clippers, only “soft” implements be used—pumice instead of a razor for calluses; an orange stick for cuticles, not a scissor—since accidentally punctured skin is more susceptible to infection. You can also choose to bring your own tools, but just be sure that you always disinfect them with alcohol after use.
- …and the tubs. Footbaths should be thoroughly disinfected between clients—a technician should scrub it clean with soap and a brush, then fill the tub with clean water and a disinfectant, drain it and allow it to air dry. (Spraying and wiping the basin with a towel isn’t sufficient.) Whirpool tubs can be tough to clean, so footbaths with disposable liners can provide an extra layer of protection. To be safe, schedule your pedicure for early morning, when footbaths are freshest.
- Avoid a pre-pedi shave or wax. Microscopic nicks on feet or legs can invite bacteria and fungus. Wait 24 hours between hair removal and a pedicure.
- Be mindful of technique. Your pedicure should be a total pleasure and never hurt. The pedicurist should wash her hands between clients, swab your feet with anti-bacterial solution, and not be so busy gabbing with her coworker to devote attention to you. If getting a mani-pedi, make sure your aesthetician doesn’t use the same tools for both, since bacteria and fungus can transfer between fingers and toes. And if she drops a tool, request a fresh one.
- Review ventilation. Nail salon air quality can be poor due to the chemicals in use, and prolonged exposure can lead to respiratory and other illnesses. While this is more a concern for pedicurists than clients, go elsewhere if the salon smells.
What About Chemicals in Nail Polish?
Today’s polishes and removers are increasingly free of formaldehyde, dibutylphthalate (DBP) and toluene sulfonamide—chemicals linked to some cancers, birth defects and infertility. (For beauty product safety ratings, visit The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website.) Organic and vegan nail products are now available, if you prefer, and some spas include the use of things like ginger or peppermint for sore feet, milk or chocolate for dry skin, and sugar or olive oil for calluses.