When You Actually “Need” A Pedicure & Polish Change

Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images.
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You'll never see me without nail polish on. It's a habit and one I'm fine with because I like going through the world with nails that have some personality. But my toenails are a different story. I don't particularly like getting pedicures (I'm squeamish and ticklish) and I don't have a foot care routine to speak of. My feet are especially neglected in the winter when I have socks on most of the time, unless the weather permits a pair of ballet flats, and even then I'm not showing a lot of skin.
I can't remember the last time I sat in a massage chair with my feet in warm water, but the other night I found myself clipping my toenails and considering the recommended cadence of pedicures. It turns out a lot of other people had the same question (If you've ever googled 'how often should I get a pedicure?' I got you.) Instead of just booking in for a pedicure to check it off a list, I thought it wise to first explore the topic with Dana Stern, MD, a board-certified dermatologist specializing in nail health and the founder of nail care brand Dr. Dana.
There's no universal prescription to how often you should get pedicures. "Needs will vary from person to person," explains Dr. Stern. "Some people naturally produce more calluses or participate in activities that create a lot of friction at the feet and friction produces calluses." If you're in the latter camp, prone to calluses, "then you may want to adhere to a regular, year-round pedicure routine," offers Stern.
But what does a year-round pedicure routine look like? Here, Dr. Stern takes us through the best advice and most important considerations when treating your feet to a pedicure.

Take off toenail polish every three weeks

I'm not precious about my pedicures, as I mentioned, which means that the two coats of red nail polish I painted on the night before a pilates class sometimes stays on for weeks. "Since we tend not to wear open-toe shoes as often in the winter, feet are often more neglected and toenail polish is often left on for excessive lengths of time," says Dr. Stern.
A month is deemed excessive and it can lead to "keratin granulations" on the toenails. "Avoid keeping [polish] on toenails for much more than four weeks," says Dr. Stern. "Prolonged polish wear can lead to keratin granulations. These are white patches that are due to superficial nail cells being removed after prolonged polish wear." This is what keratin granulations look like. You may see them on your fingernails, though Dr. Stern says, "they are more common on the toenails." 
The best way to avoid keratin granulations is taking off your nail polish after three weeks. I'm considering a tri-weekly calendar reminder. For polish removal, I love using the Dr. Dana Hydrating Non-Acetone Nail Polish Remover because it smells like citrus and it's super gentle on my nails (both fingers and toes). Considering this information, I'm also avoiding gel pedicures for the foreseeable future.

Do dry pedicures

We've explored the merits of a dry or waterless manicure. TLDR; A dry manicure is great if you're looking for a faster service that omits a hand soak. It's regarded as more sanitary, because warm water can breed bacteria. So, with salon pedicures, going dry is also a good idea.
"Opt for waterless," offers Dr. Stern. "A dry pedicure is definitely preferable for a number of reasons, the first being that dry pedicures pose a much lower risk for infection. When basins and pedicure foot baths are not properly cleaned, bacteria, fungi and viruses can colonize in the water source. This is especially high risk when there are jets because it is impossible to effectively disinfect the pipes within these foot baths in between clients." 
When it comes to the longevity of your pedicure, dry is also preferred. According to Dr. Stern, the nail absorbs 1,000 times more water than the skin. "Our nails are essentially sponges and the influx of water between the nail cells will cause them to expand. Once the nail is no longer soaking, the nails will then contract and the polish will too. This influx and efflux of water can therefore make polish more likely to chip."

Really wash your feet in the shower

This one may seem obvious but Dr. Stern says it's one of the most overlooked steps with foot care: wash your feet in the shower.  "It may sound obvious but people often just let the soap suds run down and hope that they will somehow permeate between the toe web spaces and lather the soles," says Dr. Stern. "Feet need to be cleaned especially thoroughly as they have many physiological characteristics that differentiate them from other areas of the body and make them a unique habitat for supporting microbes including odor-causing bacteria."
Washing your feet is especially important in the wintertime because the risk of a toenail infection is actually pretty high. "There is always an uptick in nail infections in winter months because of improper removal of hangnails," explains Dr. Stern. "I can't tell you how many infections I have seen in the last couple of weeks." Why? Because dry air can cause hangnails on the cuticles of our toenails, just like on our fingernails. "When a hangnail is pulled, bacteria can enter openings in the skin and result in an acute paronychia. This is a swollen, red, painful, pus filled infection that requires drainage and treatment with an antibiotic."

Use cuticle oil on your toenails, too

The best way to avoid hangnails is to keep the cuticle around the toenails healthy and moisturised. Dr. Stern recommends using a cuticle oil, like the one you use on your fingernails, on your toenails. For my toes, I've been using the Kure Bazaar Cuticle Oil, which is nice because it uses a brush, which covers more surface area. I'd also recommend The Manucurist Green Oil that comes with a pipette.

Find a foot cream with urea

Skin on our feet and around our toes gets much drier in the winter. Though, as Dr. Stern explains, the skin is thick so certain ingredients penetrate better than others. For the thick skin on the soles of the feet, Dr. Stern suggests a cream containing urea. "Urea dissolves the intercellular matrix of the cells of the stratum corneum and thus it acts as a very efficient dead skin remover," Dr. Stern explains. "Importantly, this step will help to prevent new calluses from forming." A little bit of urea cream — like The Inkey List Urea Moisturizer— is a gentler, more hydrating option than something like the Babyfoot exfoliating foot mask. But I don't want my foot skin flaking off. Really, I just want my feet in good shape so I can feel swinging them around at pilates in January.
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