Is a Medical Pedicure Worth the Money?

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

This column first ran in Valerie Monroe’s newsletter, How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

I walk a lot. Anywhere from five to ten miles every day. That’s why I was curious about medical pedicures, which I heard about from the rigorous reporters on the beauty podcast Fat Mascara. But I wasn’t sure: Was a medi-pedi like taking my feet to the ER? Or just a spendy (at $200 for a basic treatment), soleful pampering?

I had to find out. So I showed up for my appointment at Medi Pedi NYC and was greeted loquaciously by a bright-eyed woman at the reception desk. Did I need to use the restroom? I did, which precipitated a whirlwind of friendly chatter and a quick but thorough mopping of the restroom floor. “I love to mop!” said the woman, exuding a kind of manic warmth.

Then she showed me into a room outfitted with what looked like a dental chair — and at the foot, various dental-like machines. She was, it turned out, Marcela Correa, owner of Medi Pedi NYC, and because she had no idea I wasn’t just another patron — rather than someone there to write about a treatment — she apologized when she realized her mistake. (I booked my appointment myself rather than through the company’s PR agency.) But I found her mistake telling: Her thoughtfulness is evidently democratic.

Correa and her five employees are state-licensed medical nail technicians with advanced training. Certifications vary state by state, but certification generally allows a technician to treat various foot issues including corns, callouses, athlete’s foot, cracked heels, and nail fungus, among others.

Nail fungus is the most common foot issue among older women, says Dr. Suzanne Levine, D.P.M., a board-certified podiatric surgeon and the author of My Feet Are Killing Me. We think of pedicures as a reliable way to indulge, she says. “Bring your own pedicure tools,” advises Levine. “Always.”

Correa told me the tools at Medi Pedi NYC are sterilized in an autoclave between clients. “You could use them in your mouth,” she said proudly if unappealingly. Though I seem to have developed one flat foot in my extensive years of walking, I have no other obvious issues, so a no-frills medi-pedi was in order.

My technician, Aisha, began by removing three-week-old polish from my toenails. She asked if I had any medical issues she should know about. With the polish off, Aisha took photos of both my feet, which she typically does to follow the progress of whatever issues she might be treating. She then sprayed my soles and heels with a callous softener and slipped a heel-shaped hydrogel sheet (like an open-toe sock) over my feet.

With a cuticle scissor, she trimmed my nails. Why a cuticle scissor? Easier to control the shape of the nail, she said.

I noticed a few whitish dots on my nails after the polish was removed. “Dryness,” said Aisha, who then advised me to change polish every two weeks and use a base coat to protect nails from the polish’s color, which can leave a yellow stain. Next: A multivitamin-oil spray on my nails and then a witch hazel spray before … drilling?

With what looked like a dental drill, Aisha cleaned my cuticles. The drill bit is actually ceramic; there are different sizes and grit types, as skin quality varies among clientele. After my cuticles were (painlessly) whooshed away, Aisha used a device that resembles what dentists use to shine teeth: A buffer wiped off any debris left on the nail.

The most relaxing time in the chair was when my soles were exfoliated with one of those simple foot files you can get at a drugstore. The exfoliation went on for so long, I finally asked Aisha if she was getting tired. “I’m not using a lot of strength,” she pointed out, and it was true: Her touch was very light. Even so, the skin was flying off like snow off skis. Very impressive. And when she was done—no more cream or lotion, because that would leave me with what Correa called “butter feet” — Aisha used a cloth to “floss” between my toes and remove any residual dampness. My heels were as soft and pink as an infant’s.

“I tell my clients, ‘You love yourself head to ankles, not toes,’” said Correa. “I want you to feel about your feet the way you feel after the dentist cleans your teeth.” And I did feel that way. My clean toes were so pristine and my soles so soft that — just like you don’t want to eat after a dental cleaning — I didn’t want to stand on them.

But Levine says that standing on them — actually, walking on them — is one of the keys to aging well. Most of her patients who are healthy into their 80s and 90s are big walkers. “Because foot problems as we age are largely due to diminished circulation, arthritis, and muscle imbalance, exercising and stretching your feet can help maintain good functionality,” she said. Got a hammer toe? It’s usually attributable to atrophy or damage to the plantar plate, so the muscles on top of the foot assume the work of lifting the toes while the muscles on the bottom of the foot weaken. (Result: The toe is unflatteringly hunched.) To stretch top muscles and strengthen bottom ones, practice picking up a pencil, marbles, or your partner’s dirty socks with your toes.

Plantar fasciitis? Your feet are flattening and need support. Toe extensions, calf stretches, and ice massage are recommended. Once you’re past middle age, your feet have most likely lost cushioning, so be sure your walking shoes are well padded for shock absorption and get new ones every year. Levine is fond of the Frankie4 brand. She cautions she’s never found a device sold online that remedies foot issues but that orthotics can be helpful.

What might your at-home pedi look like? Both Correa and Levine suggest an Epsom-salt soak; Correa advises once a week for 15 minutes. Then a foot cream containing urea — Correa likes Gehwol Med Lipidro-Cream and Soft Feet Creme. A gentle exfoliation with a foot file or pumice should follow, and then a bit of oil on the nails. Levine recommends plain old olive oil. Finally, a trim. And use a soft towel to dry between your toes.

As for my splurge (kindly comped), though I loved the way my feet looked and felt afterward, I would suggest it as a treat, a pre-summer luxury, or as prep for a special event (like when you’re being sworn in as POTUS in your favorite open-toe Manolos). As Correa pointed out, it can make a great gift for a person who’s uncomfortable in a nail salon and whose feet are begging for TLC. But if you think you might have a medical issue, it would be wise to see a board-certified podiatrist.

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Is a Medical Pedicure Worth the Money?