Fashion & Beauty

Feet Treats

February 4, 2024



Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column. She now splits her time between Manhattan and Tokyo.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

I WALK A LOT. Anywhere from 5 to 10 miles every day. Though it’s never been my practice to pick up trash along the way like the civic-minded and passionately peripatetic David Sedaris, I do use walking time to sort through my mental detritus. There’s plenty of that, so plenty of time on my feet. 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?

Forgive me my suspicions. A trend’s been gaining traction over the past few years of Big Beauty co-opting scientific-sounding language to encourage trick us into believing that products and devices have valid scientific evidence behind them when they don’t. If you want to get into the weeds about it, read this post at Jessica DeFino’s excellent newsletter, The Unpublishable.

I showed up early 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 their 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 Suzanne Levine, board-certified podiatric surgeon and author of My Feet Are Killing Me. And the latest about how you might pick up such a fungus isn’t news: Women count pedicures as a reliable way to indulge, said Levine. But even if we’re generally healthy, an older immune system isn’t what it used to be, which can make the more mature of us more vulnerable to what Levine calls “fungal opportunities” at the nail salon. “Bring your own pedicure tools,” she advised, “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 basic medi/pedi is in order.

My technician, Aisha, begins by removing three-week-old polish from my toenails.  She asks if I have 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-toed 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 to use a base coat to protect the nail 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: The 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’d 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. 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. These exercises 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 wouldn’t suggest doing a medi/pedi regularly. Rather, treat it as a pre-summer luxury or as prep for a special event, like when you’re being sworn in as POTUS (in your favorite open-toed 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’d be wise to see a board-certified podiatrist.

One thought on “Feet Treats

  1. Nancy G says:

    Never heard of this, but another great, informative column. Pedicures are my only regular beauty indulgence. I don’t count haircuts, because they are so infrequent. But I get a pedicure every 3-4 weeks, and I love it.

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