Feet First

Ready for summer's strappy sandals? Salons -- and your local drugstore -- offer many ways to get your toes in tip-top shape.

Focus On Beauty

June 18, 2000|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

Think of summer's strappy sandals as bikinis for the foot: When you wear them, you should make sure that what they expose isn't going to embarrass you. And that means getting your feet in shape, if only cosmetically.

You can do it yourself, but the best way -- at least the most pleasurable way -- is to get a pedicure at a salon or spa. It will cost roughly between $35 and $50 with tip and last about a month (especially if you apply a coat of clear nail polish once a week to protect and add gloss).

Once you've had a professional pedicure and your nails are nicely shaped, it's easier to do your own. These days you'll find almost as many foot care products as bath products on the market. Even the venerable Dr. Scholl's has a new line of Pedicure Essentials, which includes a self-heating foot mask and Cool Snap Spray Gel. Salons sell top-of-the-line (read: expensive) soaks, scrubs and creams, but you don't have to spend a fortune. Check out Avon's Foot Works line, with products such as Foot Soak with Mint and Rosemary for $5.99. (If you don't know a representative, call 800-367-2866 or go to avon.com on the Web).

But for a real treat, have someone else take care of your tootsies.

"What color are we going to do today?"

Estelle Balsky at Carl's Intercoiffure in Cross Keys is sorting through You Aren't in Kansas Any Longer Red and Think Pink Fast Dry Enamel and the other little bottles of fuchsias and scarlets and blush pinks that promise to transform my toes. I've had pedicures before and never chosen anything more exciting than clear, but I find myself saying, "Let's do something wild and crazy."

"OK!" her face brightens. Nail polish is a tool of her craft. What looks like red to you may actually be Ripe Raisin or Scarlett O'Hara, and color gives manicurists a chance to be an artiste.

When we've agreed on a color (Creative Design's Pretty in Pink with a coat of Sally Hansen's Superfrost Pink, not so crazy after all) she takes me back to a small room that's just big enough to hold one of the new high-tech chairs made for foot work.

Many salons still do pedicures the old-fashioned way: After they soak your feet in a basin filled with warm water and a softening foot soak, they put them on a towel on their knees and work from there.

The pedicure chair is the manicurist's salvation. It's an incredible amount of machinery for a simple little task, but at least it's high enough so she doesn't have to bend over to work. Built into its base is a foot-size whirlpool, jets and all. The chair itself can be set to vibrate like a motel bed -- some clients love it, some turn it off.

A good manicurist cleans and trims your nails (fairly straight across with rounded corners), softens and pushes down your cuticles, files away some dead skin and massages various good-smelling creams into your legs and feet to relax you. Then she applies a base coat, two coats of polish, and a top coat. You should bring flip-flops to wear while the polish dries.

There are variations. Bonnie Mancuso, a manicurist at the new Renaissance Day Spa in Bel Air, for instance, uses an antiseptic spray on her client's feet before she soaks them. She won't treat anyone who has athlete's foot or another skin infection. (Probably few manicurists will if they know about the problem.) She massages feet and legs with Qtica Herbal Exfoliating Foot Scrub to get rid of dead skin and finishes off with a spray of liquid powder.

The whole process takes a little more than hour if you count soaking and polish-drying time.

When it's over, your feet should look prettier, but a pedicure isn't a trip to the foot doctor. Don't expect to get your corns and calluses removed.

"I personally have never had a pedicure," says Dr. Terri Walton, a spokeswoman for the American Podiatric Medical Association in Bethesda. "But my mother gets one every month."

For anything more serious than filing away a little dead skin, though, Mom visits her daughter's office.

About the only problem caused by pedicures that Walton has treated is infections in the nail bed, but she suggests taking other precautions. She would bring not only her own shower slippers but also her own pedicure implements, in case the salon's aren't disinfected well enough.

"Ask them to please not use a blade versus a file to remove dead skin," she adds. "And cuticles should never be cut. They can get infected. Just push them back. The extra skin reabsorbs."

Not all problems are so serious, though. What if a client is ticklish?

"If you hold the foot the right way," Estelle says, grasping my foot gently but firmly, as you would a startled animal, "most people can tolerate it."

Do it yourself

Some suggestions from manicurists on giving yourself a pedicure:

* Remove old nail polish.

* Soak your feet for five minutes in warm water and mineral salts. Dry.

* Trim the nails fairly straight across and round the corners gently. Clean under the nails gently with an orange stick. Use a file or pumice stone to remove rough skin.

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