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Could Your Pedicure Be Ruining Your Feet?

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A good pedicure is one of the greatest forms of pampering. Someone rubs your feet while your back gets massaged by an oversized chair, and then you leave the salon feeling like a million bucks. But, could your pedicure actually be ruining your feet? Sometimes our standing appointments can be doing more harm than good, causing our heels to feel hard and look white and cracked. Here are the cons of pedicures and how to keep your feet healthy and baby-smooth, according to dermatologists.

  • Dr. Deborah Longwill, a board-certified dermatologist based in Miami
  • Dr. Janet Allenby, a board-certified dermatologist based in Delray Beach, FL
  • Mitchell Ross, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Greenwich, CT
  • Rhonda Rand, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Beverly Hills, CA
  • Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Dallas

What are the cons of pedicures?

Many of us have standing pedicure appointments every two weeks. But, 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 nail 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. Greenwich, CT dermatologist Mitchell Ross, MD recommends pedicures be done no more than once every four to six weeks.

What should you ask for when getting a pedicure?

Ask the nail technician to see a menu of services they offer so you can choose the right pedicure for your needs. “Expect to have your feet exfoliated with some type of scrub, and your toenails filed, buffed and painted,” says Dallas dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD. Adding callus removal is typically an extra cost, or an upgrade to a more comprehensive treatment. (More on callus removal below.) Other add-ons include leg and foot massages (a personal favorite) and paraffin wax treatments. “Paraffin wax provides a temporary softening of the skin and cuticles, and moisturizes the feet,” adds Dr. Houshmand.

You can also ask about the tools that will be used, confirming they are sterile. Most quality salons keep their pedicure “tool kits” in sterile bags for each client. And at some salons, clients can even bring their own tools for the technician to use. If this interests you, it’s best to ask the salon about this before showing up for your appointment.

What to Know About Callus Removal

“Calluses build up on the base of our feet over time,” says Dr. Houshmand. “This is especially true when we wear heels, exercise or walk around barefoot.” Beverly Hills, CA dermatologist Rhonda Rand, MD says, “Think of it like a callous you get on your finger when your pen constantly rubs it. The outermost layer of skin gets thicker and develops dried—and often white—skin on top.” Calluses actually help to naturally protect the feet. But, 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.

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. “Ask if they autoclave their instruments, which is the gold standard for medical sterilization. If so, 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.”

If your callouses are really thick and hard, and at-home treatments aren’t helping, it could be an underlying issue. In this case, you should see a dermatologist. “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.” 

Products to Smooth Rough Feet at Home

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 dry skin 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 ($20) and Eucerin Urea Repair Cream 30% ($25).

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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.” A gentle and best-selling foot mask that was first popularized in South Korea, BabyFoot ($25) is a natural foot exfoliating mask that’s so easy to use. It delivers results you have to see to believe—think major foot peeling. Pro tip: Don’t do it a couple weeks before a big event where your feet will be exposed.

Award Photo: Original Exfoliation Foot Peel

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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.” We love Pedestrian Project’s Walkers Foot Cream ($12), a 2024 NewBeauty Award Winner.

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