The Purely Primal Skincare Blog

{Fix your skin. Naturally!}

This post was first published in 2013. It has been updated and republished.

The weather is just starting to warm up, and it’s time to reveal parts of ourselves that we wish could stay hidden, as they have been all winter long.

(I’m talking about our toes, of course!)

Those poor little piggies – wrapped miserably into closed-toed shoes for months on end – are ready to make an appearance. Are yours ready for the light of day? 

Or do they look more like this?

Monster foot

We all want our feet to be as non-offensive as possible. But getting those feetsies into summer sandals requires a bit of preparation. The first stop for most of us is pedicure city. But is that a safe choice?

Unfortunately, the nail salon can be a toxin bomb – and IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT! In order to try to make multi-use tools safe for a constant stream of people, they’ve got to take extreme precautions, and many of the products used are filled with harsh or damaging chemicals that can harm your body – but they’re necessary (and Health Code compliant) for killing bad bacteria and fungus in a public environment like the salon.

While a DIY home pedicure lets you avoid all the fumes, it’s just not easy to take care of those toes on our own. When I paint my own toenails, it ends up looking like this:


NOT good.

S0 are we stuck in pedi-chemical hell? Or are there alternatives?

The best way to keep your professional pedicure as safe, toxin-free, and natural as possible is to be aware of these MAJOR pedicure pitfalls – and their easy solutions!

Pedicure Pitfall #1: using their stuff.

We’ve heard horror stories about salon-acquired infections. Of course, poorly-washed tools are a breeding ground for scary micro-organisms and potential life-threatening infections – but you don’t have to contract some flesh-eating bacteria to be exposed to harmful pathogens. 

One slip-up during sterilization means you’re vulnerable to any nail fungus that walked into that salon before you – even in the most careful salon.

When the salon’s tools ARE properly sanitized, they’ve likely been sanitized with aggressive industrial chemicals that you don’t want on your skin. (Basin cleaners, for example, often contain Triclosan, which may create resistant bacteria.)

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, right? 

There’s an easy solution to this one: bring your own tools! You can get tools online, or at the local beauty supply store. Surgical steel or stainless steel are best, and easiest to disinfect at home. I boil mine, then spray them down with Probiotics in Progress spray.

Nail care kit

Added bonus to owning your own professional-grade tools: you can do quick touch-ups at home.

You can also bring your own “lotion” – like shea or cocoa butter – which are non-toxic, single-ingredient, and incredibly nourishing to skin and cuticles.

Unrefined shea is best, although be prepared for a “nutty” aroma;  and unrefined Cocoa butter,  with its amazing smell, will require melting with gentle heat (like a hot water “bath”) before it can be used.

If you want a more “standard” lotion that’s still non-toxic and natural, Dr. Bronner’s works well and can be found at many drugstores.

Pedicure Pitfall #2: not doing some leg – er, footwork.

You don’t have to give your feet the home-spa treatment every day, but you SHOULD spend a bit of time getting those feet healthy and well-kept so salon employees don’t have to hack at your cuticles and calluses. The more aggressive they have to get, the more vulnerable you are to nicks and cuts – and whatever yuckies sneak into ‘em.

Pedicure prep is EASY. So, so easy. You just have to DO it. 

If you want your pedi SOON, take one week to prepare: soak your feet every day that week for 10 minutes in a basin or bathtub with warm water and Epsom salts. Add a drop of peppermint oil to stimulate circulation.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. All you need is a big bowl, some salts, and some warm water. The rest is extra!

Woman giving herself pedicure

Before you remove your feet, scrub calluses with simple sea salt or a pumice stone. (Don’t go overboard – you don’t have to get it all in one shot.)

Follow with shea butter, cocoa butter, or a cuticle treatment of gently warmed jojoba oil.

Take it a step farther by finishing with a spray of peppermint hydrosol.

Pedicure Pitfall #3: doing TOO MUCH leg/foot work

Don’t shave your legs, your toes, or anything in-between before a pedicure. You may feel like Madame Cactus Legs, but any micro-tears caused by razors leaves your skin more vulnerable to unnecessary chemicals and even potential infection. Apologize for the pricklies and shave later.

Pedicure Pitfall #4: using their polish

Conventional nail polish is – to put it lightly – a complete disaster. Many contain a cocktail of formaldehyde (a carcinogen), dibutyl phthalate (which has been linked to birth defects), and toluene (which may be toxic to the nervous system). These Three Horsemen of the Nail-pocalypse should be avoided at all costs. 

When I finally gave up conventional polish (and I ALWAYS give my toes a break and go polish-free all winter) my big toenails, which had always been ridgy with a slightly yellow twinge, became pink and smooth again. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Bringing your own polish couldn’t be an easier or more simple step (the Purely Primal Skincare Guide discusses Three-Horsemen-free options like Scotch Naturals),  but be sure to read the how-to on polishes free of that chemical cocktail. Sometimes application instructions are slightly different.

Be sure to grab the more skin-friendly, non-acetone, non-toxic nail polish removers from safe nail polish brands while you’re at it.

Pedicure bonus points: bringing your own soaker.

Here’s me being a party pooper: those professional pedi salon soakers may not be as trustworthy as we think.

Yet they’re almost unavoidable – a good soak is just part of the pedicure experience, and without these “extras” you’re really just paying someone to paint your nails.

But the truth is, those soakers are disinfected with products containing gnarly, dangerous, resistant-bacteria-risking agents like Triclosan. The salon just doesn’t have a choice but to aggressively disinfect anything that sees THAT many feet! 

Yet when your feet are vulnerable to small nicks from pedicure equipment, your bloodstream is vulnerable to anything in that basin!

Get to know your professional pedicurist. Ask if they’ll allow you to bring your own foot spa. You might be surprised! If that’s not possible, just watch the other Pedicure Pitfalls…and, if you can, relax and enjoy.

So let’s break it down, because this doesn’t have to be difficult.

– Bring your own tools & lotions

– Prep your feet the week before

– Don’t shave right before a pedi


Thanks for reading!