Mani-pedi add-ons: Are they worth it?

Special to the Los Angeles Times

As soon as you sit down for a mani-pedi, the upsell starts: Callus removers, paraffin dips and shoulder massages can each cost an extra $5, $10, $15 or more.

And if you opt for a mani-pedi with “the works” — with maybe a fancy-sounding soak, scrub, mask or exotic foot seaweed wrap — the bill can skyrocket.

Ever wonder if It’s all worth it? We checked in with some experts.

Callus remover


It depends to an extent on what kind of solution is used. The most effective formulas are based on urea or lactic acid, according to podiatrist Dr. Ali Sadrieh of Beverly Hills Aesthetic Foot Surgery. “Bottom line is that it gets the job done,” Sadrieh says.

At the nail salon, don’t be afraid to ask the technician to show you the bottle so you can read the ingredients before you opt for callus remover. “If it’s just a no-name bottle, then you really don’t know what you’re getting,” says Boston podiatrist Dr. Carolyn Siegal, formerly of Beverly Hills.

Over-the-counter formulas usually aren’t as strong as prescription-based products. Popular brands of urea-based callus remover solutions include Carmol 20 (about $16.99) and Be Natural Callus Eliminator (about $10.50), which are available over the counter, and Carmol 40, available by prescription. Formulas made with lactic acid include Lac-Hydrin 5, available over the counter (about $12.95), and Lac-Hydrin 12, available by prescription.

You can call the salon manager beforehand and ask questions about the products used. If you’re already in the chair and the technician can’t or won’t give you this information, say no to the upsell or try to vet the product in other ways.

“If the solution smells bitter and kind of pungent, it’s urea-based. If it smells kind of alcohol-y or lemony, that’s the lactic acid version. And if it smells sweet or just like nothing, then it’s a waste of your time,” Sadrieh says. As far as consistency, Sadrieh says that both the urea and lactic acid are a bit stringy and aren’t sticky. “Think of bleach, lemon juice and yogurt all mixed together,” Sadrieh says.

Still unsure? Buy your own callus remover and bring it to the salon. You might still be charged for the labor, but at least you know what you’re paying for.


But even if your technician is using a good callus removal product, “They don’t work in one application,” Sadrieh says. “When a patient comes here with a callus on their foot we give them a cream-based solution and tell them you need to use this regularly — like twice a day for a good four to six weeks — before you see a result.”

If you have serious concerns with your feet, see a podiatrist. “You may think that you have one thing and what you have is something different,” Siegal says. “We get calluses in certain areas because of the biomechanics in our feet…. Where you apply more pressure in a certain area versus another. Quite often we make orthotics that redistribute the weight.”

Sadrieh concurs, adding, “A callus is a story. It’s telling you that something is wrong from the inside — five years or 10 years from now you’re wondering, why does my joint hurt? You may just be putting creams on a structural deformity. “

Sadrieh says that as for in-salon callus removal, “What they’re doing is softening up the top layer of the callus so that the pumice stone wears away just the top layer of the callus. That’s why the calluses come back so fast. Doctors can shave to the deeper layer of the callus and then the callus takes two to three months to come back.” (For sanitation, don’t ever let a nail technician take a blade to your feet. In many states, including California, it’s illegal.)

Bottom line: Is one application of callus removal solution worth $5 to $10? Unless it’s repeated regularly, probably not. But if you think the salon pampering is worth it, bring your own callus removal cream with you.

Paraffin wax treatments


Paraffin wax treatments arose from rheumatoid arthritis treatments, Sadrieh says. “Paraffin sends deep heat to the joints, increases blood flow and washes out a lot of the noxious, inflamed sections of the joint, making joints feel better.”

He says paraffin softens skin, but results last only a day or two.

Stay alert regarding sanitation. “I get a little worried about everybody dipping their feet in the same common bowl of wax,” Siegal says. Look for salons that offer paraffin treatments that use individual wax-filled gloves or bags instead of a communal wax bath.

Bottom line: Paraffin wax treatments, which can be cumbersome or messy to do at home, are worth the add-on if your joints need some TLC or you want your skin softened for a near-term foot-revealing event such as a beach vacation.

Foot scrubs

Scrubs range from the expected — peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, sea salt, sugar — to the far out — Cosmopolitan cocktail, chocolate, even caviar — and they are a popular salon upsell.

Sadrieh says sea salt is abrasive and will debride tough skin but warns against sales gimmicks such as expensive microdermabrasion pedicure add-ons.


“Skin on the foot can be 50 times thicker than skin on other parts of the body. So basically a microdermabrasion cream doesn’t do much — that’s why it’s called microdermabrasion — it’s for microdermabrasion of the skin, which is what you want to do on the face,” Sadrieh says. “The skin on the face is very thin. You can’t afford to take a big chunk of skin off of the face.”

Scrubs using ingredients such as peppermint, lavender or eucalyptus may have aromatherapeutic or pampering value and be worth the extra money for the relaxation factor.

Bottom line: Skip the far-out foot scrubs and microdermabrasion treatments, but tried-and-true scrubs that smell good can soften skin or at the very least polish up your mood.

Wraps, clay masks, tea bag soaks and carp

Sadrieh says that a clay mask can indeed soften feet a bit. Soaking feet in a tea solution can soothe a sunburn or poison oak, but he doesn’t find much additional value in it. And when it comes to seaweed wraps for feet, “Scientifically, medically, I don’t see any benefit,” Sadrieh says.

As for soaking your feet in a tank full of live carp — a treatment introduced in some salons across the country a few years ago — forget about it. The idea was that the fish would nibble away dead skin on your feet. It doesn’t take an expert to tell us “Ewwww!” The California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology thought the same thing. After looking into it, the board outlawed so-called fish pedicures in California.


Bottom line: Tea soaks and clay masks: maybe. Far-out gimmicks: Just say no.

Foot and shoulder massage

They feel terrific and are relaxing. Just remember that the nail technician “may not be a licensed massaged therapist, so you don’t want them pushing on, let’s say, an injured part of your body that needs to heal,” Siegal says.

Still, while manicures and pedicures are about ending up with sleek, well-groomed feet and hands, “they’re also about the experience and relaxation,” Siegal says. “It’s part of the beauty and what people enjoy about getting them. So part of the value could be just in the pampering.”

Bottom line: Use common sense, but if it’s been a long day, little extra luxuries go a long way.

Basic guidelines

Cleanliness is the most important part of any mani-pedi. Consider bringing your own tools, including an in-tub liner if possible — spa whirlpool-style foot tubs can harbor bacteria in the drainage or filtration system. Or have your pedicure done in a sanitized stand-alone basin (which is often cheaper too).


And if you’re offered a mani-pedi upsell, make your decision as an informed consumer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be sure of what you’re getting. And don’t be afraid to say no.

Or yes if extra pampering at a price is worth it to you.