After months of shoving your feet into thick, slouchy socks — and boots, if you ventured out — it’s past time for your toes to see a little sunlight. But they’re likely to need at least a little TLC, lest you risk offending the members of your quarantine pod. Follow this step-by-step (no pun intended) guide to give yourself a safe summer pedicure.
And, yes, these instructions can also be followed by the manliest of readers.
Assemble and sterilize your tools
You’ll definitely need a pair of nail clippers, a cuticle pusher and a nail file. Depending on how thorough you want to get, you’ll also need a dry foot file, exfoliating scrub and moisturizer. If you really want to treat yourself, have a foot basin filled with warm water ready.
Don’t skimp when it comes to the nail clippers and cuticle pusher. Krista Archer, a podiatric surgeon based in Manhattan, recommends using as many all-metal tools as possible so that you’ll be able to properly disinfect them before each use. To sanitize your tools, soak them in a shallow dish in 91% alcohol for at least 10 minutes.
For toenails, Archer recommends single-use paper emery boards that you can buy in bulk. They’ll be “contaminated with nail dust and fungus, and that lives on the nail file,” she explained, so you shouldn’t hold on to them.
Also grab cotton balls and nail polish remover to get rid of remnants of pedicures past. And finally, you’ll need your base, color and top coat within reach. Work in a well-lit area (natural light is best).
“If you don’t have a bright light in your apartment, wear a headlamp,” said Archer, who often employs this technique both in her home and her office.
Landscape your nails
Spray your feet with rubbing alcohol, focusing on the nail and cuticle. “So, if something does happen and you do nick yourself you’re not going to get infected,” Archer said. Then, pat them dry.
Next, cut your toenails for length. No matter your preferred nail shape, experts agree you should always cut straight across to avoid ingrown nails. (If you do get an ingrown toe nail, make an appointment with a doctor. “Don’t go diving for it,” Archer said.)
Then use a file to gently shape the sides of your nail, she said, getting rid of any sharp corners, by following the lunula, the lighter colored half moon shape at the nail base. Archer recommends leaving the cuticle cutting to professionals, too. Instead, gently push back the cuticle with a metal cuticle pusher.
Ditch your dead skin
Some nail salons buff out calluses after feet have had a good soak. But Margaret Dabbs, a foot care specialist in London who has a line of products in her name, said to avoid wetting the skin first.
“You’re going to mask the area that needs to be treated, and you’re not going to see the dry skin, the cracks in the skin or the hard skin,” Dabbs explained.
So use your foot file before you soak your feet. Wirecutter, a product recommendation site owned by The New York Times, recommends the Checi Pro Nickel Foot File ($26), which is metal and can be sanitized, or the Gehwol Wooden Pedicure file ($25). Dabbs’ foot care line has a stainless steel foot file with replaceable filing pads ($44).
Rub the heel and balls of the feet, which are typically the most callused parts, with your dry foot file in a back-and-forth motion. The soft parts of the skin, those in between the toes and the arch of your foot, can be taken care of by an exfoliating scrub.
Remember: Leaving some calluses on your foot is beneficial and protective, but too much callus can lead to gait changes and, if they rip open, infection. To avoid these complications, it’s best to dry-file your clean feet once a week. If you have lost sensation in your feet, Archer and Dabbs both recommend forgoing the foot file completely.
Now, soak your feet
You’ve made it to the relaxing part. Both Archer and Dabbs suggest using Epsom salts, which can relax the muscles in your feet; Archer recommends adding drops of essential oils, such as tea tree oil, for an aromatherapy experience. Dabbs likes rinsing fresh mint leaves with cold water and tossing them into a basin for some cooling relief on a hot day.
Rub your wet feet with an exfoliating scrub to remove any lingering dead skin. Then, pat dry and moisturize with a thicker cream, such as L’Occitane en Provence’s Shea Butter Foot Cream ($29). If you’re looking for lower-cost and more natural options, Archer recommends coconut oil, olive oil or shea butter. You could also try a foot mask (an actual thing!): Gina Edwards, a celebrity nail stylist, recommends the one from KISS ($2.99), which you leave on for at least 15 minutes.
Finally, polish your nails
Get into position: You might want to elevate your feet on a stool or rest them on a windowsill so you can reach them better. If you don’t have a toe separator, which does exactly what it sounds like and is available for a low-cost at most drugstores, Edwards recommends cutting makeup wedges and placing them between your toes, as they are sturdier than cotton balls or paper towels. Be sure to remove any oil or moisturizer residue from your toenails with nail polish remover.
Start by applying a base coat, which smooths the nails so that your polish sticks better and lasts longer. Edwards uses a simple base coat, rather than the strengthening base coat that she uses for manicures. Wirecutter recommends SallyBeauty Clear Base Coat ($7.29), Jinsoon’s HyperRepair ($22) and Essie’s First Base ($9).
Then, apply two coats of your color. Work parallel to the nail, from the middle of the nail outward, and don’t put the brush at an angle, Edwards said. As for colors, Edwards recommends a warmer peach, muted Terracotta or moody blue — but her personal favorite is bright yellow.
Lastly, use a topcoat, which adds a layer of protection to prevent the color from chipping. Edwards’ favorite topcoat is Essie’s Good to Go ($9).