In wintertime, feet get neglected. We hardly look at them for months, let alone take care of them. When warm weather rolls around again, feet are generally in need of some special care, whether to prepare them for sporting activities or simply for a beach vacation.
"The first thing to realize is that you can't undo a winter's worth of neglect in a day or two," says Ann Thariani, president of Gilden Tree, a natural products manufacturer specializing in foot products, based in Omaha, Neb. "You want to get your feet as healthy as possible in a reasonable amount of time."
"If you don't take care of your feet until summertime, they're going to look horrendous," says Stephanie Tourles, a licensed holistic aesthetician based in Orland, Maine, and author of Natural Foot Care (Storey Publishing, 1998). "I recommend doing a regular home pedicure on a weekly basis."
Generally, foot care is a four-step process. "Our products are based on that simple four-step process—soak, scrub, moisturize and protect," says Thariani. "You have to do this more or less often depending on the condition of your feet."
In deciding what products to stock for foot care, retailers can take two approaches. There are plenty of ready-made soaks, scrubs and moisturizers to choose from, but it's also possible to feature the raw ingredients for shoppers to make their own simple products, usually from a mixture of sea salts, carrier oils and essential oils, which have both aromatherapy and direct therapeutic properties.
Step one: Soaking
"The first step is to soak your feet," says Thariani. "That softens the dry skin and allows whatever you use afterwards to be more effective." She suggests adding Epsom salts to help draw toxins from the skin.
Some foot soaks are more elaborate, with additional ingredients for moisturizing or deodorizing. "Our foot soak has organic alfalfa, which is a skin conditioner, and Dead Sea salts for detoxification," says Kathy Swanson, president of Kathy's Family natural bath and beauty products, based in Plainfield, Mass. In addition, each product in the Kathy's line contains an essential-oil blend with tea tree and thyme, which has antifungal properties (see sidebar for more information on antifungal ingredients).
Step Two: Exfoliating
Once the skin is softened, it's easier to remove calluses and fully exfoliate the feet. Tourles recommends drying the feet, then using a simple scrub of sea salt, oil and an essential oil, such as peppermint, which increases circulation and creates a pleasant tingling sensation. The carrier oil can be olive oil, almond oil or any other vegetable oil, but Tourles cautions against using water in scrubs, as that will dissolve salts and destroy the scrub's exfoliating properties. Other scrubs use apricot kernels or ground pumice for exfoliating.
"Just grab a wad of the stuff and rub it all over—massage the bottoms, the tops, in between the toes," she says.
In addition to a scrub, Tourles recommends using a tool to help with skin removal. "One of my favorite things is a pedi-wand, which is a paddle covered with sandpaper or impregnated with diamond dust, or sometimes a piece of pumice on a stick," Tourles says.
A pumice stone or pedi-wand can be used in conjunction with a scrub product to help remove calluses.
Tourles says people with high arches are prone to corns, which are similar to calluses but are found on the top of the foot, over the joints in the bones, instead of at the heel and ball of the foot. As far as treatment, the same exfoliating procedure that works for calluses will work for corns as well.
Tourles cautions against trying to remove too much skin in one treatment. "If you do this consistently once or twice a week for a month or two before summer, your feet will be in really nice shape," she says.
Step Three: Moisturizing
Moisturizing is a tricky thing—too little moisture can lead to cracked skin, while too much can create a breeding ground for fungal infection. "Rinse your feet well after scrubbing, then dry them completely, especially between the toes," Thariani says. "Once the feet are really dry, use a good rich cream and massage that in." Gilden Tree's products contain moisturizers such as babassu oil, jojoba and shea butter in a base of organic aloe vera.
Step Four: Protecting
To keep newly scrubbed and coddled feet from reverting to their prior condition, it's important to keep the skin protected. One common way to do this is through the use of a foot powder, which helps minimize sweat and chafing.
"People with smelly feet or athlete's foot tend to use our foot powder, which can control odor and sweat," Swanson says. The product contains menthol, thyme, tea tree and peppermint in a base of arrowroot powder, and can help control moderate cases of athlete's foot, she says.
Others may want to moisturize with a cream or balm.
"I'd suggest that, after moisturizing, people put on some kind of oil-based balm, like shea butter, to seal the moisture in with the oils," Thariani says. Swanson suggests wearing socks for 10 or 15 minutes after the treatment to hold moisture in.
The most important thing to remember is to consistently use these tools to gradually get feet back into shape. "As a reflexologist, the No. 1 complaint I hear is cracked skin and calluses, and the second is thickened toenails from fungus or ill-fitting shoes," Tourles says. "It's basic neglect that causes most problems I see." But retailers have the tools to make that neglect a thing of the past, and help customers take a step in the direction of healthier feet.
Mitchell Clute is a Fort Collins, Colo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 4/p.28, 30