Turns out, most of us are doing everything wrong.
"Are you a dancer? Or have you recently been on a long hiking trip?," asks Marcela Correa, the founder of Medi Pedi NYC, while analyzing my feet with loupes. I emphatically tell her no — my feet just look like this. "Wait – are they bad or is something wrong?," I ask, panicked. No, she can fix it, no problem, but I just have the feet of an elderly person, she casually notes. (Um, excuse me?) I take a closer glance at my feet — how often do we actually analyze our toes, arches and heels? Okay, yeah, there are bunions (thanks, dad, for those horrifying bunion genetics), a painful ingrown toenail from a recent pedicure and apparently "waterlogged" skin (due to a well-intentioned habit I used to swear by after showering – refer to tip four below).
Medi Pedi NYC is no average, run-of-the-mill nail salon; the midtown-Manhattan practice gives the vibe of a sterile doctor's office rather than a luxe salon, and they only perform one service: medical pedicures.
What exactly is a medical pedicure? "Medical pedicures are the bridge between podiatry and nail care," says Correa. The treatment leaves customers (patients?) with hygienically cleaned toes and feet along with long-term education for a one-of-a-kind foot-care experience. The certified medical nail technicians tailor your $200 waterless session to your specific needs, usually including nail trimming, callus removal, and treatments for any non-invasive ailments like ingrown nails, fungus and Athlete's Foot. Medi Pedi technicians have been trained under a podiatrist, so they can assess these ailments, giving targeted in-office care, as well as suggestions for at-home treatments.
While the space's private, sterile rooms and elevated chairs give serious doctor vibes, the procedures are completely painless and you'll walk out with naked, smooth toes. There are no walls of nail polish to choose from at Medi Pedi NYC; instead, your nails will be buffed to a shiny, healthy glow – with the emphasis on healthy.
Within one hour-long session, I learned more about toe care than I had in my entire beauty editor career. Turns out, most of us are doing everything wrong. Like, catastrophically wrong. Ahead are seven game-changing tips for the healthiest feet of your life.
Foot Function Is More Vital than Appearance
Why aren't we all more obsessed with foot health? Sure, we care about the appearance of our toes — but what about their wellbeing and function? Our overlooked feet are one of the most vital contributors to our overall mobility and health. They directly affect how our bodies move and feel.
"How our feet contact the floor when we stand and how they move and activate when we walk affects the alignment and functionality of our entire body," says Erika Bloom, founder of the movement-based therapy The Erika Bloom Method.
The biomechanics of your feet affect every single part of the body — including how our knees and hips move and the length, strength, and mobility of our spines, she says. Something as simple as a bunion or weak arch has a domino effect for the rest of the body. "The feet are key to proper posture, form, and movement and to keeping our bodies healthy and balanced," adds Bloom.
Everything Is Fixable (Well, Almost Everything)
Bunions — those bony bumps that can form on the joint at the base of big toes — occur when the big toe drifts toward the smaller toes. There's a significant genetic component to developing bunions, but they can also be the result of small, everyday things, like our shoe choices.
"Most bunions are caused because of our lifestyle," says Correa. "Small things, such as wearing the wrong shoes, the way we walk, back alignment issues, or not stretching enough can all be contributing factors," she adds. These small issues can change the structure of our feet, causing toes to overlap and bend, which, if left untreated, can develop into bunions and hammer toes.
I personally have moderate bunions, which have been present since adolescence, meaning they're likely genetic. I simply accepted my fate, preparing for the waking (and walking…) nightmare that is severe bunions. But they're likely treatable. In my first session, Correa handed me toe aligners and said I could probably correct my bunions within a year or two with diligent at-home care.
My mind was blown: No one in my 35 years of life had told me I could simply correct my bunions with persistent care. What are toe aligners? They're a non-invasive solution for overlapping toes. The gel aligners available at Medi Pedi "help maintain the correct bone placement and are comfortable enough to wear with shoes or sandals," says Correa. "Simply by incorporating this small step, you can prevent a small issue from needing corrective surgery in the future," she says.
After more than two months of consistent wear, I can confirm they're completely painless — and they actually feel nice — like a comfortable stretch. They're similar to the popular yoga toe separates you can find online, which cannot be worn with shoes and go between every single toe on the foot. They work almost like an end-of-day treatment to relax, stretch and realign the toes.
Other things to look out for are thick nail beds, discoloration or dents, which can often be a sign of something wrong, whether an easily treatable fungus or a more permanent disorder. A medical pedicure can analyze these woes and make suggestions on next steps and experts to connect with.
Moisture Is the Enemy
Philosopher Derek Zoolander once said, "Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty." Clearly, he didn't have fungus-harboring nails, because moisture, it turns out, is actually the essence of bacteria for feet. "The most common reason nail fungus starts is due to a combination of moisture build-up underneath the nail bed, as well as bacteria build up inside of our shoes," says Correa.
If any of your nails are discolored, cracked or lifting, eliminating all interactions with moisture is key, and three important steps will help you do so.
First, use Gel Sleeves in the shower. They're like little condoms for your toes, helping to shield any water from slipping under the nail bed and creating a bacteria party. After showering, take extra time to dry in between your toes (where Athlete's Foot is just waiting to pounce), analyzing the nails for any possible changes. "Nails tend to grow very slowly, and often nail fungus goes unseen until it's a problem," says Correa.
Secondly, change your socks often, as soon as they feel slightly damp. If you want to stay ahead of this, travel with several pairs a day, changing into fresh socks as needed — particularly after the gym.
Third, eliminate bacteria buildup in the shoes by sterilizing them. Medi Pedi sells their own specialized UV Shoe Sterilizer (but you can also find them elsewhere online). Correa notes that sterilizing your shoes is the most important step because you can maintain clean, healthy feet, but the point is moot if you stick them right into dirty, bacteria-harboring shoes.
But You Should Still Moisturize – Carefully
Just because dampness can cause all sorts of issues for feet doesn't mean they should be left to dry out. It's important to moisturize with the right type of lotion.
Remember when I wrote earlier that I had "waterlogged" my feet? I had the best of intentions. For the last few years, I was basically "slugging" my feet with Vaseline, slathering it on directly out of the shower over damp skin, then pulling on a pair of thick socks and letting them marinate overnight. I thought I was giving my feet a spa-like hydration treatment. But it turns out I was actually causing major issues.
"Vaseline creates a thick, non-breathable barrier that tends to make conditions such as Athlete's Foot worse," says Correa. Slathering on a petroleum jelly-based product will lock in the dampness from showering — a bad idea for feet and toes. Learn from me and don't do that.
Instead, moisturize twice a day with a foot cream. Foot creams are thicker than body lotions, and they contain ingredients that are ideal for targeting the thicker skin on the soles of our feet. Correa recommends Gehwol Soft Feet, which contains urea. "Urea is known for breaking down the protein keratin in the surface layer of your skin," she explains. This reduces dead skin buildup, making for softer heels and fewer calluses. For an intense overnight treatment, use a silicone heel protector over your foot cream to ensure extra moisture seeps into the skin and not your sheets.
The other aspect of healthy hydration is oil. Correa suggests applying cuticle or jojoba oil to moisturize the cuticles and toenails at least once a day. She loves the Gehwol Nailcare, which stimulates growth and strengthens nails.
Exfoliate – Carefully
When it comes to exfoliation, it's crucial to be be intentional and careful yet again. (Sorry for harshing the vibes.)
Exfoliating is a vital part of maintaining healthy feet — but there's a specific Medi Pedi-approved method, says Correa. Once a week, take clean, dry feet and massage a thick lotion (like the one mentioned above) into the heels and ball of the foot. Let it soak in for a minute or two, then grab a large callus remover with disposable exfoliating stickers, like this Cuccio Metal File. It's important to use a tool with disposable exfoliating stickers because it's far more hygienic than traditional pumice stones. File the skin in an up and down motion (toes to heel) rather than across the foot in a back and forth motion because you're less likely to tear the skin.
Using this dry skin/lotion method is far safer than exfoliating with soaking wet feet. "Oftentimes when a foot is wet it is difficult to identify the differences between a callus, a corn, or peeling skin due to conditions like Athlete's Foot," says Correa.
Stretch It Out
Bloom is a bunion-recoverer (it's not a word, but it should be) and knows firsthand how stretching can alter not only our feet but our entire alignment. After moving to New York at 19 for a post-modern dance career, Bloom suffered a back injury that put dancing on the back burner and healing and realignment first and foremost. She's now a certified expert in a variety of fields, from pilates to myofascial release to injury rehabilitation; she's even a trained doula.
She advises clients suffering from foot pain or extreme bunions to "strengthen muscles that spread and open the big toe and release fascia that holds it into the bunion." She adds, "With my personal healing of my bunion, I did toe and foot exercises that rebalanced the foot, but also worked on how I was standing and moving through the whole postural system. It reversed and I remain bunion free and moving with ease."
The Erika Bloom Method has five studios and as well as digital classes to customize realigning bodywork sessions to your specific needs. But if you'd like to start at home, Bloom recommends doing a self foot massage and foot strengthening. She suggests moving, spreading, and lengthening the toes with stretching. "Essentially, your toes should be able to move much like your fingers,"she says. Bloom loves rolling the feet out with a small release ball, and strengthening them with a resistance band as well.
Try stretching arches and calves, too, as a lot of toe issues can arise from too-tight muscles in the feet and legs. "Stretching your calves helps to avoid the tightness that causes your toes to curl and rub against your shoes, causing bunions and ingrown toenails," notes Correa.
Consider Skipping the Nail Salon
I know, I'm sorry. I'm sure your local nail salon is fantastic and responsible. But many toe and foot woes are in fact caused by salon basics: unhygienic tools, cross-contamination from unsanitary foot baths, and irresponsible nail clipping and shaping that lead to painful ingrown nails. Go for a manicure (and ensure they're using clean tools fresh out of the disinfecting autoclave) and tip well. But let this story be your sign to give your toes a polish and salon break. Oftentimes, we don't even see the color of our natural toenails except for the few minutes at the salon between polish removal and nail painting.
And this is the perfect time to take care of your nails from home – there is a huge flush of at-home products that make DIY nail care easier than ever. Clean, trim and buff nails from the comfort of your bathroom with freshly disinfected tools (swipe tools with isopropyl alcohol and use a fresh file). "Cleaning your feet and cutting your nails the right way will prevent ailments that are not only hard to eradicate but can be painful and cause a ripple effect that can change your way of life in the future," says Correa.