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Put your best feet forward

You may not have time for a pro pedi, but taking three minutes to treat your toes will keep them -- and your feet -- looking pretty for weeks. © iStockphoto.com/Brian Chase You may not have time for a pro pedi, but taking three minutes to treat your toes will keep them -- and your feet -- looking pretty for weeks. © iStockphoto.com/Brian Chase
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By Nicole Pearl Kaplan

 

If it seems like you're on your feet all the time, it's because you probably are! Running from place to place throughout the day is really hard on your feet. And since regular pedicures are as much a pipe dream as weekly massages and afternoon naps, you need a quick way to combat calluses, cracked heels and brittle toenails.

Thankfully, you can clean up and beautify your feet at home in not much time. Check out these expert strategies for fixing your most annoying foot issues. You'll have flip-flop-worthy feet in no time. 

1. Cracked Heels

Unsightly heel cracks can result from wearing open-back shoes or standing for long periods of time. "This puts pressure on the fat pad under your heel, causing the dry, thick skin to expand and crack," says Dr. Sapna Westley, an assistant attending physician in dermatology at St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center in New York City.

Treat and prevent cracks with some heavy-duty exfoliating and moisturizing. In the shower, take a minute to rub your soles with a pumice stone, says Westley. Afterward, while feet are still damp, massage in a thick skin ointment or petroleum jelly. If you can, apply before bed and wear cotton socks overnight to help the moisturizers penetrate deeper.

2. Calluses

Friction inside shoes can lead to these patches of thickened skin. "It's your body's way of protecting an aggravated area," says Pattie Yankee, executive technical educator for Dashing Diva nail salons. That might be OK when you're wearing shoes, but come sandal time, you're faced with icky-looking, thick bits of skin.

Completely removing a callus will cause it to return quickly, so instead, soften and smooth the spot gradually to keep calluses under control, says Yankee. Every day in the shower, spend a little time exfoliating with a paddle-shaped foot file. (It should feel about as coarse as sandpaper.) Since it's easier to soften rough calluses when skin is moist, wait to file until the very end of your shower.

For very rough, stubborn calluses, first dab on a cream or scrub with glycolic or lactic acid, then use the file. The acids will start to break down and soften skin, helping the file do its job.

3. Brittle Toenails

When toenails get dry, they turn hard or brittle and can look unhealthy. Overusing nail polish removers, overexposure to water (e.g., regular visits to the pool) or any trauma to the nail plate can lead to dehydration, explains Westley.

While you might be able to camouflage the unpleasant look with lacquer, dry nails are susceptible to breakage and infections -- two things you can't hide with polish. Your best defense: Massage cuticle oil into the nail plate daily. It keeps toenails strong and flexible, and protects them from water and chemicals.

4. Scaly Skin

Long showers, soaking feet in a pool or lake, and pounding the pavement all day in sweaty socks can actually suck moisture from your skin. Result: scaly or ashy-looking feet.

If it happens, try exfoliating heels with a pumice, which also increases circulation to feet, helping them look and feel better, says Westley. For tops of feet that are more sensitive, rub in a salt or sugar scrub. Afterward, apply moisturizer that contains glycerin or hyaluronic acid, both of which draw moisture from the air and hold it to skin.

5. At-home Pedicure

You may not have time for a pro pedi, but taking three minutes to treat your toes will keep them -- and your feet -- looking pretty for weeks.

  • Trim and file. Clip toenails straight across, then file the corners at a slight 45-degree angle to prevent ingrowns, says Yankee.
  • Smooth the nail surface. Brush a ridge-filling basecoat on to even out the nail bed and make sure polish -- whether a color or clear -- goes on smoothly and evenly.

Polish. If you're pressed for time, pick a clear or light-pink or beige shade, which is less likely to show uneven edges. Then, paint each nail in only four brush strokes: one down the center, one to cover each side, and a swipe across the tip.

Copyright (c) 2010 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

Nicole Pearl Kaplan is a freelance beauty writer and the founder of TheBeautyGirl.com. She has written for online publications and magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Self, Marie Claire and In Style and has been a staff editor at Shop Etc., Us Weekly and Golf for Women.