Pedicures 101

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Maybe you enjoy having a pedicure every few weeks and consider it necessary for the good health of your feet. Or maybe you've never had one before and are a little nervous at the idea of letting someone get that close to your feet. Either way, you may have some questions about how the whole process works.

There are multiple reasons to indulge yourself in a pedicure -- for beauty, for healthy feet, for relaxation, for pampering. Since our feet carry us everywhere, it's especially important to care for them. Regular pedicures are great for the removal of dead skin and calluses. They also help prevent nail diseases and disorders like ingrown toenails and onychorrhexis (longitudinal ridging of the nail). In addition, reflexology, a specific type of foot massage that an increasing number of salons are offering, can be used as a form of pain management.


There are many different kinds of pedicures you can give yourself or request at your local salon. The standard pedicure begins with warm footbath followed by the removal of dead skin from the feet. Cuticles, softened from the bath, are then pushed back from the toenail, usually with a Q-tip or orangewood stick. The toenails are then trimmed and moisturizing lotion is massaged into the feet. Finally, the toenail polish is applied.

Slightly more involved is the paraffin pedicure, which includes everything in the standard pedicure, plus a paraffin wax dip where warm wax is massaged into your toes, feet and lower legs to hydrate your skin. Paraffin wax is oil-based and known for its pain-alleviating properties. The French pedicure is an add-on to the standard pedicure where white polish is applied to the ends of the toenails while the rest of the nail is painted with a sheer polish. Gel pedicures are when a coat of clear or colored gel is applied to your toenails to extend the life of your pedicure and prevent the polish from chipping.

But what's the deal with some of those new salon pedicure techniques of letting little fish nibble at your feet? And what about those of us that have ticklish feet? Are pedicures for us, too? Read on to find out.


What You Need in Your Pedicure Toolbox

The popularity of pedicures is definitely on the rise. Fifteen years ago, salons were doing one pedicure for every 10 manicures. Today, that difference has shrunk to only three manicures for every pedicure [source: American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society]. But what are the differences between a home pedicure and a salon pedicure? What are the advantages of each?

Probably the biggest difference between a pedicure at home and one at the salon is the pampering. The salon experience is all about luxury and catering to the client. You also receive the benefit of getting your toes cleaned and trimmed by a trained nail technician, skilled in the shaping and painting of toenails. Plus, there's the opportunity to receive reflexology foot massages which manipulate certain key areas in your feet that correspond to specific zones in the body resulting in pain relief.


Home pedicures have the advantage of being much cheaper. Depending on whether you're going to a small nail shop or to a larger spa, prepare to spend between $15 and $40 for a standard pedicure and between $25 and $60 for a deluxe pedicure that includes things like paraffin wax and foot massage [source:].

Here are some of the items you'll need if you're giving yourself a pedicure at home:

  • Footbath or small tub filled with your choice of soapy water, scented oil or bath salts
  • Something to remove calluses from your feet, such as a pumice stone or Hindu stone
  • Q-tips or orangewood stick
  • Nail clippers
  • Emery board
  • Moisturizing lotion
  • Cotton balls or toe separators
  • Towels
  • Nail polish remover
  • Colored nail polish
  • Nail base coat
  • Nail top coat

What comes next? Read on to find out how to give yourself the perfect pedicure.



Pedicure Basics, from Footbath to Top Coat

Whether you're giving yourself a pedicure or having someone else do it for you, it's good to remember a few key things about proper nail care.

When it comes to trimming or filing your nails, it really is a matter of personal preference, though most nail technicians will do both. Sometimes, when it has been a long time since your last pedicure, a trim is in order. If you're regularly tending to your nails, a good filing with an emery board might be all that's needed.


Remember when trimming always to cut the nail straight across in a square shape. Don't cut in a curved pattern or go too short, as this may lead to ingrown toenails. A good toenail length leaves a few millimeters peeking over the toe but not much more than that.

When soaking your feet, no more than 10 minutes is really necessary. It's important to include the soaking process in your pedicure because it softens the dead skin on your feet, making it easier and painless to slough off with either an emery board or pumice stone. At salons and at home, metal foot scrubbers and razors have increasingly fallen out of favor because of the potential of shaving too deep and cutting into live skin.

Old nail polish should be taken off with a Q-tip or cotton ball soaked in nail polish remover before you paint your toenails. Apply a base coat to your nails to protect them from the chemicals in your nail polish. First, paint up the center of the nail, then paint the two sides of the nail. Toe separators or cotton balls can be used for this part, but if you're using cotton balls, be wary of getting any of the cotton fibers stuck in the polish. Then, paint on your chosen nail color and apply a clear top coat to prevent nail chipping as a final touch. Remember to wait until each coat has completely dried before applying the next one.

Read on to the next section to get advice on what safety things to look for when visiting a salon for a pedicure.


Pedicure Health and Safety Issues

When going to a salon for a pedicure it's important to go through this mental checklist before sitting back and putting the health of your feet in the hands of someone else:

  • Is the salon licensed?
  • Do the nail technicians/pedicurists have their licenses displayed?
  • Does the footbath/whirlpool area appear clean and sanitary?
  • Is the water emptied after each use?
  • Is the footbath disinfected after each use?
  • Are the instruments used for the pedicure cleaned and disinfected?
  • Are disposable items thrown out after each use?
  • Did the pedicurist properly ask you about the health of your feet before beginning?
  • Does the salon have sufficient ventilation?
  • Were you given your own foot towel?

Skin infections, usually caused by microorganisms that survive and breed in the warm water of the footbath can occur. You can tell if you've developed an infection if small wounds, that at first look like insect bites, break out on your feet and legs. Open cuts, abrasions and sores on the feet make it more likely for an infection to occur if there are any little bugs lurking in the water. This is why it is very important to not go for a pedicure with any kind of wound on your foot. If you're not certain about whether you should go for a pedicure, ask a trusted pedicurist.


Care of your cuticles, also known as the eponychium -- the living layer of skin cells that lay on your nail bed -- is mainly an aesthetic issue and the matter of personal preference. Some prefer to keep their cuticles trimmed very low. Others think that cutting into the cuticle is dangerous because of the risk of cutting too deep and causing an infection. Some states have passed laws making it illegal for salons to cut the eponychium. Pesty overgrown cuticles can instead be manicured by pushing them back with an orange stick after a good foot soaking.

We've now gone over the ins and outs of pedicures, but there's still lots more information out there. Click on through for links to some great Web resources.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Adkins, Jen. "FAQ: Pedicures for People with Ticklish Feet." May 1, 2008. (Accessed 10/8/09)
  • American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. "Practice Good Foot Hygiene and Toenail Care." January 2008. (Accessed 10/7/09)
  • Barakat, Matthew. "Fish pedicures: Carp rid human feet of scaly skin." Associated Press. July 21, 2008. (Accessed 10/8/09)
  • Buchanan, Kadence. "Pretty Feet for Women." October 3, 2009. (Accessed 10/9/09)
  • "How much do manicures and pedicures cost?" October 2007. (Accessed 10/9/09)
  • Crowley, Tim. "The Big Dip." Nails Magazine. October 2009. (Accessed 10/7/09)
  • The Good Spa Guide. "Pedicures" (Accessed 10/8/09)
  • International Pedicure Association. "Pedicure Safety Awareness for the Consumer." (Accessed 10/9/09)
  • Lajourdie Anna. "Could it be Gel Toes?" Nails Magazine. December 23, 2008. (Accessed 10/9/09)
  • Nails Magazine. "10 Nail Myths to Stop Believing." (Accessed 10/9/09)
  • Peters, Vicki. "Tip of the Week #18 Cuticle Care." (Accessed 10/9/09)
  • Pratt, Michelle. "What Is Onychorrhexis?" Nails Magazine. October 2009. (Accessed 10/7/09)
  • Sibal, Anna Lynn C. "How to give yourself a French manicure." (Accessed 10/9/09)
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Preventing Pedicure Foot Spa Infections." March 13, 2008. (Accessed 10/9/09)