Human feet take a beating. We stand on them for hours, enclose them in heavy boots or pointy, high-heeled shoes, submit them to high-impact aerobic exercise and walk about 75,000 miles on them by age 50. Yet when it comes to grooming and skin care, customers tend to neglect their feet more than any other body part.
It's not that feet don't have problems. There's foot odor from sweaty enclosure, athlete's foot from locker room showers and just plain aches, pain and fatigue from all that use. "We are extremely hard on our feet," says Stephanie Tourles, a licensed aesthetician and author of Natural Foot Care (Storey Books, 1998). "They carry all our weight and then some, especially for those who are very active. Foot and knee joints take a lot of wear and tear, and the soles of the feet especially need a lot of care. Regular maintenance of everything from the knees down is vitally important to good health."
Foot neglect can result in some unattractive, but very common, conditions such as foot odor, fungal infections, thickened toenails and rough, calloused skin. But today's natural foot care products are effective and healing. With just a little attention, feet can be restored to tension-free appendages with fragrant, soft skin and healthy nails.
Proper foot care can have a positive impact on the rest of the body, too, according to Susan West Kurz, president of Dr. Hauschka USA, based in Hatfield, Mass. "When you work on the feet you're affecting the digestive and metabolic systems," Kurz says,"and feet are especially linked to circulation." A foot massage, as anyone who's experienced one knows, can reduce stress in the entire body. "A foot massage and/or a pedicure just makes people feel better," Tourles says. "To me, rubbing the feet just drains all the tensions right out through the feet, and you just feel fantastic."
Natural Ingredients For Happy Feet
Although products targeting the face or body won't hurt feet, soaks, scrubs and creams designed especially for feet are most effective for controlling and healing foot complaints and grooming for beauty. For example, feet can tolerate more abrasive scrubs and can benefit from richer lotions and creams. Feet may also need especially powerful antibacterial and deodorizing ingredients.
"What provides relief for the extremities is different than the skin care and maintenance we want for the rest of the body," says Susan Griffin-Black, founder and co-CEO of EO (Essential Oil) Products, based in Corte Madera, Calif. "In our foot care products, we use tea tree oil, which is antibacterial, and peppermint, which is stimulating for the circulation and nerves and is a good pick-me-up for the feet. But you can't really use it on the rest of the body."
Tea tree oil, in particular, can control athlete's foot or toenail fungus, according to Tourles. "Conventional treatments for athlete's foot or fungus may not even work and can take months on end of consistent use, and oral prescription drugs may have horrible side effects," Tourles says. "Tea tree oil can be highly effective, but consistency with using the product daily is the key. So it's not a shortcut, but can be equally effective."
In addition to essential oils, which offer both aromatherapeutic and aesthetic benefits with their subtle natural fragrances, other natural ingredients lend themselves to foot care. For example cucumber, mallow and witch hazel extracts used by Boulder, Colo.-based Bella Mama, are designed for use during pregnancy. The most effective foot creams and lotions use natural oils as a base to lock in moisture and add nutrients to the skin, and provide alternatives to petroleum-based jellies and oils that prevail in conventional foot care products.
In the Dr. Hauschka line, where each product is developed as part of a holistic system, ingredients such as St. John's wort appear in foot care products. "We use St. John's wort as one of our seven primary plants because it's very good for the nerve endings and for any irritation or wounds," Kurz says. The line's leg cream includes horse chestnut, a valuable plant for vein strengthening and toning in the lower legs.
The Full Treatment
Understanding the vital steps for a full foot treatment can be helpful in recommending products to customers. Tourles advises that a foot treatment or pedicure begin with a good foot soak in hot or cold water plus a few drops of essential oils. In addition to packaged foot salts and soaks, Tourles says customers might choose their own invigorating essential oils such as camphor, eucalyptus, mint, spearmint, juniper, bergamot and rosemary. For relaxation, use German chamomile, Roman chamomile, rose, clary sage, almond and vanilla. These same essential oils can be added to nut-, seed- or vegetable-oil bases for foot massage.
A good foot scrub helps remove dry, flaking or calloused skin from the feet. "Feet are pretty tough, so a foot scrub should be granular and abrasive; a facial scrub would not be abrasive enough," Tourles says. "I like those that contain pumice, walnut hulls, apricot kernels, salt, sugar or cornmeal."
After trimming toenails, pushing back cuticles and buffing nails, polish is often applied. More and more natural products retailers are offering nail polishes made without formaldehyde. Although even "natural" nail polishes contain chemical adhesives, Tourles OKs them for healthy nails with an occasional "breather week" without polish. Those troubled by foot or nail fungus should avoid polish.
A massage with foot cream or massage oil is an ideal conclusion to any foot treatment, or a healing, relaxing treat all by itself. "A foot massage is a very nice thing to do for a partner, for an elderly parent or for your children," says Dr. Hauschka USA's Kurz. "It's an incredibly satisfying treatment, and you don't have to be a professional massage therapist to do it. It's something anyone can do and it's a small luxury with a lot of returns."
Finally, a dusting with a natural foot powder will keep skin dry and silky, especially if socks and shoes have to go right back on.
Marketing Foot Care Products
While the basic elements of foot care are the same for everyone, retailers can direct customers to products with appropriate characteristics for each individual. Athletically active men and women may want to focus on products with tea tree and other deodorizing and antiseptic properties that can be used daily. Those looking more for pampering can be directed to the more luxurious lines with healing properties and natural fragrances.
Either way, your customers will walk away with new appreciation for their feet and all the benefits of natural foot care. "If your feet are feeling fine you don't even notice them, but any sort of ailment can be so painful," says Griffin-Black of EO Products. "The way we look at it, the ingredients we use for foot care, and foot care in general are important as preventive care and also for remedying after exertion and other situations. The natural ingredients, we feel, are better for everything—we try to infuse our products with everything that is as real and authentic as possible."
Elaine Lipson is the author of The Organic Foods Sourcebook (Contemporary Books, 2001) and is a writer and consultant for the organic foods and natural beauty and health community.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 4/p. 42, 46, 48
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 4/p. 46
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 4/p. 46