A thorough pedicure can be like meditation: It smoothes away signs of stress, soothes your lower legs and feet, and relaxes you down to your toes. But you don't need to seek the ministrations of a trained professional to get that relaxed feeling―or silky, sexy feet. Just follow these instructions, and step out with your best foot forward.
Cut and Buff
First, remove any old toenail polish. If needed, lightly go over nails with a buffing block to remove any stains left by dark colors.
Now it's time to trim. "Cut toenails square or straight across with a nail clipper or manicure scissors," says Julie Serquinia, owner of Paint Shop, a Beverly Hills, California, nail salon. "Don't cut too far down on the corners; it can cause ingrown toenails."
Then use an emery board to eliminate jagged nail edges, which can snag socks or pantyhose.
Soak and Soften
Foot soaks offer a chance to immerse and relax tired feet in a deliciously scented warm-water bath.
Start by filling a plastic foot bath or disposable aluminum roasting pan with warm water.
Or, for real luxury, use a pedicure bath, which is just like a Jacuzzi for your feet.
Next, add a few drops of an essential oil (lavender relaxes, peppermint refreshes) or try a commercial soak.
Scrub and Rub
Your foot soak softened the dry skin; now it's time to remove as much of that skin as possible. First, rub in a softening cuticle cream. Then, using an orangewood or birchwood stick (available at drugstores), gently scrape around the nail plate at the cuticle line. "You'll see what looks like the sheer layer of an onion skin; that's what you want to gently push back," Arnold says. "But be careful, because the cuticle area is like a seal that protects living tissue and the nail matrix from infection."
To shed tough excess skin, you'll need an exfoliating scrub. "Scrubs use an abrasive such as sea salt, ground pumice, or nut shells to pull dead skin cells off the surface of the foot," says Becca Armijo, a beauty professional at Trilogy Spa in Hermosa Beach, California. Rinse, and then use a foot brush to remove remaining dry skin.
If you have calluses, a foot paddle or pumice stone (available at drugstores) can gently sand them away on the heels or balls of the feet. But don't use them on bony areas like the side of the big toe or pinky toe, Armijo says, or you can break the skin.
Never use scissors to peel or cut skin off your feet, no matter how dry or callused. Even if your feet need extreme care, be patient: Soft skin will eventually emerge after a week or two of faithful moisturizing and exfoliating.
Massage and Moisturize
Moisturizing every night and in the morning after your shower (to lock in moisture) will keep your feet soft and reduce the need for heavy scrubbing during your pedicure. Look for lotions with natural oils such as shea butter, cocoa butter, vitamin E, and avocado oil, which help condition and protect the skin.
And don't be afraid to apply some pressure. "Massaging relaxes the muscles, increases blood flow, decreases inflammation, and helps distribute the skin's natural oils," Serquinia says. "Work the moisturizer along the ball of the foot, the arch, the heel, and the ankle." For even more indulgence, massage all the way up to your knees.
Finally, after a long day at the office or lots of playing on the beach, give your feet a cool treat with a relaxing lotion or spray.