Pamper Yourself: Pedicure Tips for People with Diabetes

Treat your feet to a pedicure -- but only after taking steps to protect your health.

When Ruth Nichols decided to get a pedicure a year after her type 2 diabetes diagnosis, she knew she needed to take extra care. Ruth, 59, had watched her father become wheelchair-bound after years of living with diabetes, so she understood the importance of caring for her feet. But when she checked out several salons three years ago near her home in Gulfport, Florida, she was horrified to see their lax sanitation.

"They spritzed those little tubs for just a few seconds before filling them up for the next customer," she says. Fortunately, Ruth discovered a local salon owned by a nurse that specializes in pedicures for people with diabetes (PWDs). She now confidently gets her feet pampered and toenails polished, sometimes experimenting with shades of joyful yellow and suede blue.

Some diabetes experts tell patients to skip pedicures because of the risk of complications. "I've had many people who have gotten infections from pedicures, and because of their diabetes they are often slow to heal," says Katherine Lai, D.P.M., a podiatrist at the Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in New York City.

Yet caring for your feet is key in managing diabetes, and many PWDs do enjoy regular pedicures. Talk to your health care provider before getting a pedicure. Extra-thick skin, curved nails, or circulation problems require some people to forgo a pedicure and have their nails trimmed at a podiatrist's office.

Before you go, read our pedicure checklist and suggestions for what to take with you.

Pedicure Checklist

A few days before

-- Ditch your razor. Shaving your legs creates tiny nicks that can allow bacteria to enter, so it's best to avoid shaving for at least two days before an appointment.

-- Ask about cleaning procedures. Call ahead or stop in to ask the manager how the salon is sanitized. At Adam & Eve Day Spa in Seminole, Florida, owner Anna Marie Stewart, LPN, treats her tools like medical equipment. She scrubs them in soap and water, soaks them in disinfecting liquid, and heats them in a surgical autoclave. If you can't find a salon that takes similar precautions, consider providing your own tools.

What to Take with You

Bring your own tools. Providing your own tools at the salon is the best way to ensure foot safety. Many shops even allow you to store your tools on-site in a container labeled with your name. Here's a good list of what to take:

-- Nail clipper

-- Nipper (to be used only to remove dead skin)

-- Foot paddle or pumice stone (to gently slough off dead skin)

-- Nail file (disposable wooden ones are best)

-- Buffing brick (to ready nails for polish)

-- Orange stick (to clean under the nail or gently push back cuticles)

-- Moisturizer or cuticle oil (to soften skin)

-- Polish (many salons use the same bottles and brushes for different patrons)

During your appointment

Tell the technician if you have nerve damage. You might say, "My feet don't feel as much, so please make sure the water won't burn me," Stewart says.

Leave cuticles alone. The live skin around your nail bed should never be clipped because it opens a door to infections, Stewart says. Ask the technician to gently push back cuticles with a stick, which makes them look just as good, she says. If you trust the technicians not to cut your toenails too short, it's OK for them to clip; otherwise, ask for your nails to be filed.

Beware of overzealousness. Well-meaning technicians might vigorously scrape -- or worse, cut -- areas of calloused skin, but that can lead to sores, podiatrist Katherine Lai says.

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