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Toes look perfect post-pedicure, but after a few days the nail polish on your big toenail always seems to chip. Bringing your own polish to the salon means you can fix imperfections at home. Here’s how: Stroke a dab of polish on the chipped area, let it dry, then use top coat or clear polish to give the surface that slick, just-done look.
Treating nails to top coat every few days extends the life of a pedicure—we liked Barielle Ultra Speed Dry Manicure Extender ($16; barielle.com). The right nail polish helps, too: Lippmann ($15; lippmanncollection.com) and OPI ($6 to $9 at area salons and Sephora) both wore well, though certain Lippmann colors require an extra coat or two to cover nails completely. Keep in mind that light shades camouflage chips better than dark ones.
Polish and polish remover may be doing a number on your nails—both have drying chemicals that can turn nails brittle and dull. Many top-name polishes—Essie, Lippmann, Borghese, Nars, OPI—have products free of formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP).
Honeybee Gardens Peel Off and Non-Peel Off water-based nail polishes ($5.99 to $6.99 at honeybeegardens.com) go a step further and banish common chemicals such as acetone and xylene. They’re also odorless. The peel-off version lasts a few days; the non-peel has staying power—so much so that the manufacturer offers tips on removing it.
To remove polish, we liked Honeybee Gardens Odorless Nail Polish Remover ($6.99) and Essie’s Naturally Clean Purifying Nail Polish Remover ($6 for 4 ounces at essieshop.com), which has antioxidants. These gentler removers take a bit more effort, but our nail beds didn’t have that washed-out look they usually get after a couple of swipes with standard remover.
You don’t have to be a germ-phobe to wonder about infections lurking in a nail salon. Bringing your own pedicure tools is one salvo against viral or fungal infections, says Annandale podiatrist David Pontell. Next best: asking whether salon instruments are zapped with an autoclave—or steam sterilizer—or with hospital-strength disinfectants.
Shaving before a pedicure, which can cause bacteria-friendly nicks, is a no-no. And the foot soak— part of most pedicures—has come under scrutiny. Ideally, a salon will wipe the foot tub with medical-grade antiseptics, but to make sure, we like Divina Pediclear (12 single-use packets, $24.99 at divinaproducts.com). Pour the bacteria-killing powder into the tub water, and voilà: a pedicure with peace of mind. For world-class worriers and those already suffering from fungal infections, NovaNailRX ($69.95 a bottle at novanail-rx.com and through podiatrists) comes in a handful of colors and offers some protection against fungal problems.
Hankering for baby-smooth feet? Modern dancer Lisa Howard, who teaches Nia dance in Virginia and Maryland, keeps a separate shower brush in the bath to exfoliate the soles of her feet—it’s gentler than a pumice, and you don’t have to bend over.
You can attack heavy-duty calluses with the PedEgg, which is reminiscent of a cheese grater ($10 at pedegg.com), or Borghese Satina Callus remover, a kit that includes a mini-rasp and roll-on tea-tree gel to soften rough spots ($15 at drugstores).
New alpha-hydroxy creams both exfoliate and moisturize scaly soles. Two that worked well: the Balm from Noodle & Boo’s Glowology line ($24, noodleandboo.com), a deliciously scented whipped foot cream with shea butter and fruit acids for sensitive skin, and Miss Oops Pedicure in a Bottle ($18 at missoops.com), with salicylic and fruit acids. When using AHA products, skin becomes more sun-sensitive—so applying sunscreen to heels and soles, if they’ll be exposed, is a must for a week.
For badly cracked heels, Dr. Pontell is a fan of O’Keefe’s Healthy Feet with allantoin, a uric-acid product proven to soften skin ($6.99 at okeeffescompany.com).
If you can’t get to the pedicurist, mix a bit of olive oil and sugar, rub it into nail beds and cuticles—on your entire foot for that matter—then rinse, to give feet a well-groomed look. No time to mix it all up? Barielle’s 60 Second Mani-Pedi ($25 at barielle.com), a grainy orange paste with Dead Sea salt, does the trick and leaves feet smelling of apricots and mangoes.
Soaking in warm water with epsom salts (around $3 at drugstores) is a tried-and-true method of soothing tired feet—CityDance Ensemble performer Kathryn Pilkington suggests adding a drop of lavender or peppermint. Epsom salts are drying, so rehydrating is key: Pilkington massages on Ahava Mineral Foot Cream ($18 at ahavaus.com).
Lisa Howard makes her own balm for relieving soreness, with essential oils such as arnica, a natural pain reliever, and tagetes, derived from marigold and used on corns and calluses (oils available at health-food stores and some Whole Foods locations).
Exercise is the fastest way to get circulation going and wake up feet. Do what dancers do when their feet feel sluggish: Trace the entire alphabet in the air with your toes.
For the smoothest legs, shave at night instead of in the morning, suggests model Cristina DeHart. Because body temperature is generally lowest in the early morning hours, you’re more likely to have goose bumps—and shaving over them can result in a rash. If you must shave in the morning, a five-minute soak in a warm tub will minimize goose bumps.
Many shaving creams and gels now incorporate anti-inflammatory and moisturizing ingredients that help keep bumps at bay. Ones that worked especially well: Bikini Zone Anti-Bump Shave Gel (around $4.99 at drugstores) with vitamins A and E—it’s fine to use on the whole leg—and Lippmann Did I Shave My Legs for This? ($24 at Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom), a silky cream with açai oil that doesn’t clog your razor.
There are also post-shave and post-waxing products that prevent bumps, burn, and ingrown hairs. A good choice is roll-on PFB Vanish ($19.95 at pfbvanish.com).
Frequent shaving can irritate skin. Shave less with Bliss Spa’s Get Out of Hair ($25 at blissworld.com). It has a patented hair-growth stunter that slowed down the return of nubs when we tested it.
Some of the best beauty products cost nothing—or nearly nothing. For keeping her legs photo-ready, model DeHart rubs sand mixed with seawater on them; in winter, table salt and olive oil do the trick.
When CityDance’s Alice Wylie wants to prime her legs for the stage, she turns to a ready-made variation, Vitabath’s Exfoliating Sugar Scrub ($18 at myvitabath.com), with coconut and macadamia oils.
In about a week, Jergens Natural Glow ($8.99 at area pharmacies) will turn legs a natural-looking, sun-kissed bronze without the harmful rays. Apply it as you would moisturizer several days in a row.