2 Awesome Tips To Make Your Feet Look And Feel Fabulous
After quarantining, we need all the help we can get.
It’s a Wednesday night and I’m watching TV on the couch, unable to move. My immobility isn’t due to laziness or because I’m riveted by bad summer reality programming — it’s because my feet are encased in plastic booties filled with acids designed to break down the calloused, dead skin encrusting the horse hooves currently attached to the end of my legs.
If the disturbing-in-a-good-way photos online are to be believed, in a week or so my skin will begin peeling off in sheets, revealing newborn-soft tootsies. I mustn’t move, as I don’t want to upset the magic happening down below. And trust me, my feet are so velociraptor-like that if this works, it truly will be magical. Unreasonably excited, I text a foot selfie to several friends, proclaiming, “LET THE MOLTING BEGIN.”
I’ve tried dry skin products before on my feet, but to no avail. My heels laugh at lotion, scoff at foot files and give pedicurists the middle toe. I’ve amassed a slew of products over the years, including the same petroleum used by farmers to moisturize cows’ udders along with a miniature electronic sandblaster that had the words “extreme coarse” and “man” in the name. No luck.
Now it’s July and the media is telling me it’s time to a) bust out the sandals and b) practice some self-care after months of sheltering-in-place. This is how I came to view soaking my feet in acid as a fun, productive activity.
Sheltering-in-place is hard on your feet.
Many of us are wearing less clothing now that we essentially live in our homes. If we’re not putting on pants for a work Zoom call, we’re certainly not putting on shoes. But padding around barefoot all day is a recipe for parched skin, says Johanna S. Youner, a podiatrist in private practice in New York City and owner of Park Avenue Podiatry.
“People can’t be shoeless and sockless and expect their feet to stay moist,” she says.
Podiatric surgeon Marlene Reid, co-owner of Family Podiatry Center in Naperville, Illinois, adds that walking barefoot, especially for the flatfooted among us, can promote callus buildup. That’s good if you’re a barefoot runner who spends her day traversing rough terrain sans sneakers. (While researching this story, I found a 2019 study focusing on the feet of Kenyan barefooters that inspired an article titled “Barefoot Walking Gives You Calluses That Are Even Better for Your Feet Than Shoes, Study Suggests.”)
But for the rest of us, the goal is soft feet that don’t snag on the sheets when we move around in bed. Here are two ways to get there. (Note: These tips are not recommended for people with diabetes, open foot sores, skin conditions or very sensitive skin. As always, it is important to seek advice from your regular doctor or a podiatrist.)
Start with urea cream and a foot file.
Podiatrists love this combo so much that many of them sell it in their offices. Technically, urea is a component of urine that has both exfoliating and moisturizing properties. (I’m unsure of the who/how/why behind this discovery.) Chemists figured out how to replicate it, and it’s now a star ingredient in foot creams for its ability to help eat away at dead skin — like a less disturbing version of those fish-nibbler pedicures.
Reid recommends first filing your foot with a pumice stone, then rubbing in the urea cream. (Youner says you can find creams with up to 40 percent urea over the counter. The higher the percentage, the stronger the product.) Repeat once or twice daily. Some urea products are meant to be used under occlusion, which means you will be instructed to slip plastic baggies over your feet before putting on socks, which increases penetration. This is usually done overnight so you’re not slipping around as you walk.
Or try this tip from Youner: Apply the urea cream, then slather on petroleum jelly before putting on socks in the morning. “As you walk around throughout the day, it will help massage the urea into the skin so it can do its job.” Toward the end of the day, pumice off your feet. (She likes pumice products made from volcanic lava.
Peels are not for the thin-skinned or faint of heart. But man, do they work.
Two days after my bootie soak, my feet still looked the same. I moped around my home despondent over the fact that my feet were so impenetrable that not even an hour in acid could crack them open. My dreams of sitting hunched over on the bathtub, giddily peeling layer upon layer of skin from my feet like all the lucky normal-footed women online got to do (Google “foot peel video”) were evaporating.
But on Day 3, after a 10-minute hot water soak (a tip I picked up online), I checked out my soles and saw some bananas-craziness starting to happen. It looked like the top layer of skin had sort of melted into a wet gray sludge that called out to my fingernails, “Scrape me.” I did, and all the calloused skin just sort of balled up and wiped away. It was gross and deeply satisfying, and the skin underneath was alive-looking and pretty! Me! What?!
Youner explained that the dead skin on our feet is glued together by compounds called desmosomes. The acids used in foot peels, such as salicylic acid, work alongside “safe and nontoxic botanical extracts” to break up those desmosomes. For someone like me with thick but healthy foot skin, this is generally safe — not to mention appealing in a Dr. Pimple Popper sort of way.
But for someone with more delicate, sensitive or thinner skin, Youner says, irritation and even chemical burns could result.
Be forewarned that if you go the peel route, things will get … messy. Friends of mine have needed to don socks 24/7 to contain the shedding skin. You’ll want to have a vacuum cleaner on standby. When it’s over — and your bathroom looks like the reptile den of the local zoo but your feet no longer resemble those of a rhinoceros — it will all be worth it.