Pedicures are one of the greatest forms of pampering: Someone hands you a glass of wine while you have your feet rubbed, nails filed and back massaged (those chairs are amazing), and you leave the salon feeling like a million bucks. But, sometimes our standing appointments can be doing more harm than good, causing heels to feel hard and look white and cracked. We think we’re doing the right thing by visiting the salon regularly in order to keep our feet looking good and feeling baby-smooth, but when all is said and done, it may be leaving us worse off. Here’s why.
How often should you get a pedicure?
Many of us have standing pedicure appointments every two weeks, but the experts say that may be more than our feet can handle. “Too much exfoliation can remove the protective barriers on your skin and actually cause more callous buildup,” says Miami dermatologist Dr. Deborah Longwill. “Other signs of overexfoliation include burning, blistering, pain, infection, and thick crusty skin on the heels. I recommend just going for a polish change if you want a refreshed look within two weeks.”
When the natural skin barrier is reduced, Delray Beach, FL dermatologist Dr. Janet Allenby says this creates something called contact irritant dermatitis. “Contact irritant dermatitis is red, irritated, tender skin that is more sensitive and and more easily infected without an intact barrier.” If this has happened to you before, or you’re not willing to risk it, take Dr. Longwill’s advice of opting for the polish change instead, or wait a bit longer in between appointments: “I recommend pedicures be done no more than once every four to six weeks,” adds Greenwich, CT, dermatologist Mitchell Ross, MD.
Aren’t calluses a good thing?
“Calluses build up on the base of our feet over time, especially when we wear heels, exercise or walk around barefoot,” says Dallas dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD. “Think of it like a callous you get on your finger when your pen constantly rubs it,” adds Beverly Hills, CA dermatologist Rhonda Rand, MD. “The outermost layer of skin gets thicker and develops dried—and often white—skin on top.” Though they help to naturally protect the feet, when they get too bulky, they can make the feet look less aesthetically pleasing and cause uneven surfaces and rough spots. “Exfoliating the calluses on the bottom of your feet can help to even out the bottom of your foot. It’s also vital for removing dead skin,” Dr. Houshmand explains.
Which tools are acceptable for removing calluses (I’ve had some that look like an actual cheese grater!)?
If your nail technician uses overly aggressive exfoliating tools, it could cause trauma to the skin on your heels, causing it grow back thicker and harder. “The biggest issue with a device that shaves skin is the risk of infection and the sterilization technique used at the salon,” says Dr. Allenby. “If they autoclave their instruments, which is the gold standard for medical sterilization, and the instrument is single-use between sterilization, it can be used to remove thicker callouses. However, I prefer a single-use pumice stone, which may be gentler and less risky.”
Which products can I use on my own at home to smooth rough feet?
Dr. Longwill suggests applying an exfoliating cream that contains urea—between 20 and 40 percent—and glycolic acid, which are specifically meant for gentle exfoliation over time and will keep your feet smooth. “Before bed, apply the cream and then put on cotton socks,” says Dr. Ross. “Do this every night for a week or two to lock in moisture and help soften the rough patches on your heels while you sleep.” Two OTC products Dr. Houshmand likes: Ebanel Urea 40% Cream with 2% Salicylic Acid ($16) and Eucerin Urea Repair Cream 30% ($24).
Dr. Allenby says foot masks are also helpful in softening the skin. “They may use an array of topical acids, such as alphahydroxy acids and salicylic acid, and they’re pretty effective when when used as instructed, as to not cause a chemical burn.” Though the peeling effect some of these products may produce can be super satisfying (to the point you may want to use them often), Dr. Longwill cautions that is possible to overuse anything. “After reaching your desired smoothness, stop using the exfoliation until needed again,” she advises. “And always remember to hydrate your feet with a good moisturizer after using exfoliating products.”
A best-selling foot mask that was first popularized in South Korea, BabyFoot is a natural foot exfoliating mask that’s easy to use and delivers results you have to see to believe (think major foot peeling—don’t do it a couple weeks before a big event where your feet will be exposed). “These foot masks resurface the skin on your heels to remove hard areas of dead skin,” says Stacy Cox, aesthetician and brand ambassador.
Could stubborn calluses be the sign of a health concern?
If the callouses on your heels are really thick and hard, and at-home treatments aren’t helping, it could be that an underlying issue, like an infection, is to blame. In this case, you should see a dermatologist for diagnosis. “Your doctor may recommend a prescription-strength product that contains more intense ingredients for softening and removing callouses,” says Dr. Rand. “I typically prescribe creams with 40-percent urea, an ingredient known to moisturize and soften rough, hard skin.”