My feet have been stuffed inside hefty biker boots for the first months of the year, so it's safe to say that they're in a bad way. I'm talking cracked heels, hard skin, and potentially ruined toenails (thanks to my polish obsession, they haven't seen the light of day for years). With summer just around the corner, I had to pay Gohil a visit — and what I learned about how to look after my feet is definitely worth sharing. So here's how to get a podiatrist-worthy pedicure at home, whatever your budget.
Give your toenails a break from polish
Nail polish on fingernails seems to last all of five minutes. On toenails? That stuff could survive anything. But just because it sticks around forever doesn't mean you don't need to remove it every once in a while. According to Gohil, it's important to give your toenails a break, otherwise they could end up looking marked and discolored (like mine).
"If you're a serial nail-painter, give yourself a break in between," says Gohil. "Even a couple of hours will do, to give them a chance to replenish themselves. But if you can do a week, that's fantastic." After taking off your polish (Gohil isn't too fussed about opting for something acetone-free, unless that's your preference), she recommends soaking your feet in a bowl of warm salt water for a few minutes. Once they're dry, you can apply a fresh coat of polish. "I'd renew polish every two weeks."
Never skip the base coat
It can be tempting to swipe on polish and go, especially when warm weather sneaks up on you. But Gohil hits home the importance of always starting off with a base coat. "You should be using a base coat every time, but a lot of people are guilty of not doing that. There are a lot of chemicals that go into nail polish and they do affect the nail bed." Gohil says that applying polish to naked nails can result in a discolored nail plate, where toenails can become white and chalky, even yellow. "If you're someone who hasn't noticed a change, you're just lucky, because polish can weaken the nail and it makes you susceptible to things like fungal infections, dryness, brittleness and flaking — things you want to avoid."
Oil can transform your nails
Manicurists always extol the virtues of a slick of cuticle oil, but dedicated toenail oil is a thing, too, and it can breathe new life into feet that are a little worse for wear, and it doesn't have to be expensive. "After soaking your feet, use an oil to rehydrate your nails,” Gohil says. “My favorite is actually vegetable oil, which works miracles for your toenails. It helps prevent splits, aids hydration and the overall texture of toenails, and it has benefits for the rate at which they grow."
Even Gohil’s clients are sold. She advises applying just a little bit of oil onto dry toenails and massaging it in with your fingers. Sometimes Gohil mixes the vegetable oil with a couple of drops of tea tree oil, which is naturally antibacterial. In the clinic, she also swears by Gehwol Protective Nail and Skin Oil.
Use a flat foot file
People ask Gohil if they should be using metal foot files — contraptions that almost resemble a cheese grater (ouch) — but she will always advise against them. "You're not going to know how much skin you need to take off, and you can cause a lot of damage. It's just not worth it, so don't use those." In fact, they have recently been banned from lots of podiatry clinics and nail salons.
Instead, Gohil loves flat foot files, which look like a bigger nail file. "I'm obsessed with these," says Gohil, "but always remember to file on dry feet. I'm not a fan of using this tool on wet skin, just because you can take off too much and it can be quite sore." She has a simple trick: "Do three long strokes, then touch your feet to see how they feel. If they're still a bit rough, do another three, and then stop." Gohil suggests using a tool like this several times throughout the week, rather than aiming to get everything off in one hit. "A lot of people leave it and then scrub, scrub, scrub. You don't want to do that!"
Rethink using gel toenail polish
Just like your manicure, when you leave a gel pedicure on toenails for too long, they can end up damaged. "I've seen clients who have had gel polish on for six weeks and panic that something has happened to their toenails," she says, referring to a weak, brittle, and spotted appearance.
Gohil mentions that gels are not a great option if your feet are often exposed to wet conditions, for example, in sweaty socks or work boots. "It's easy for fungal nail infections to set in," she says, "and if you're using gels to mask a fungal infection, you're going to make it worse."
Symptoms of a fungal nail infection include discoloration, which can appear white, yellow or dark brown; while some people find that their nails feel thicker and are painful, or they notice a prominent smell. It's not all bad, though. Gohil says that fungal nail infections can be treated easily by a podiatrist. If you keep gels on for a week or two and then have them professionally removed, you give your toenails more of a chance to be hydrated and replenished.
Not all creams are created equal (for feet)
Feet become dry through a combination of different factors, says Gohil. They include exposure to the elements (for example very hot or cold weather), how hydrated you are (which is why it's important to up your water intake), and genetics. Gohil also pinpoints skin-drying medication (an example would be Accutane for acne) and hormones, which can cause dry-skin changes. But the biggest contributor to dry skin is simply not moisturizing enough. "A lot of people forget this," says Gohil, "but when you're standing in the shower or the bath, you're exposed to things in the soapy water," which can be drying. "Would you wash your face and not put moisturizer on afterwards?"
In other words, foot cream is a must. But it has to be a targeted foot cream. "Not a body cream and not E45, which I often see people having used in clinic. Opt for a foot cream which has skin-care ingredient urea in it to really moisturize the skin." Alongside CCS Foot Cream, which contains urea, Gohil uses CCS Cracked Heel Repair Heel Balm on her own feet. "It goes a long way," she says. "Really massage the cream in and don’t just put it on your heels. Put it on the tops of your feet, too."
The trick to trimming your toenails
'Should toenails be cut wet or dry?' is a popular Google search, as is which tool is best to trim them with. Gohil says that both come down to personal preference. "Whether you use nail scissors or clippers, it's up to you — both are fine as long as they're clean and you feel comfortable using the tools. You also don't have to cut your toenails after a bath or shower. But if you can, try and do it when your toenails are dry."
Gohil says it's always best to leave a small white tip to the toenail, rather than cutting down to the skin. She also advised being mindful of the shape. "It's not necessarily true that you have to cut your toenail straight across," says Gohil. "Look at the fleshy aspect of your toenail and see the shape before the nail. Is yours more curved or straight? Follow that as a guide, and make sure there are no sharp corners. You can even enlist a skinny nail file to buff the corners to make sure they're nice and smooth."
Exfoliating socks don't have to be scary
Exfoliating socks are taking over TikTok and the results are not for the fainthearted, as very thick, dry skin tends to peel off in layers. But these socks are great to use, says Gohil. "You might leave bits of skin everywhere, but they're gentle. If you follow the instructions — 60 minutes on and then wash off the residue — you can't go wrong, especially if you have very thick skin." Just don't be tempted to pull off the skin before it's ready. "Otherwise, you're exposing raw skin that isn't ready to shed away," which could be painful, says Gohil.
And what about the latest viral hack of using glycolic-acid toner on dry, cracked feet? "Mildly exfoliating acids can help," says Gohil, "but is it a long-term solution? Probably not. Some cracked-foot creams have lactic acid in them [like her favorite CCS Foot Care Cream], but make sure it also includes urea, which is a really moisturizing ingredient. TikTok hacks can be a bit of a fad and while this can be done, you ideally want something that's clinically-proven, designed for your feet, and that won't cause you damage with long-term use."
How to tell if your feet need more than just cream
There's an easy way to tell if your dry feet are in need of a little cream or whether the problem goes a bit deeper. "Superficial dry skin might present as white skin with some lines," says Gohil. "A great way to check is to wet your feet and have a look at the sole. If you can't see the lines, it's superficial. When they're very deep, you'll still see the cracks," which means your dry skin is more of a chronic condition. If that's the case and foot cream isn't cutting it, it might be time to book in with a podiatrist for a better solution.
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.
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