The disgusting at-home foot peel that will prepare your feet for summer
If you’ve been following the shutdown rules (at least in Los Angeles and Orange counties), you haven’t had a professional pedicure for nearly three months, and your chances of getting one before July could be slim to none. That means you’re probably staring down the barrel of sandal season wondering what to do about the pair of thrashed and callused meat slabs where your feet used to be.
If you’ve scoured the internet for a DIY in-home solution that doesn’t involve the possibility of bloodletting, you’ve likely encountered the curious — and, to be quite honest, disgusting-sounding — option called the exfoliating foot peel.
It works something like this: You put your feet in a pair of plastic, chemical-filled booties for an hour, wash them off and then wait patiently up to a week until your feet start to slough off the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the epidermis) like something out of the L.A. Zoo’s reptile lair. Two weeks later, your feet emerge soft and smooth and ready for their closeup.
The pictures online (warning: There are a lot of pictures online) that document this process are not for the faint of heart. They show toes and soles covered with blister-like bubbles; heels that look like cracked, dry lake beds in one photo and newborn baby cheeks in the next; as well as flayed feet that could be mistaken for a plate of half-finished peel-and-eat shrimp.
Once you’ve seen the pictures and read the graphic accounts, you’ll probably ask yourself, “Self, is this something I really want to do?”
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Let me jump in and answer that for you with an enthusiastic and emphatic “Yes!” — and point out that the pandemic-forced social isolation has made right now the perfect time to embark on such a hideous-looking experiment. If you pull the trigger now — and heed the advice of those who’ve trod the path before you (this reporter being one of them)— you’ll be putting your best feet forward by the time summer is in full swing.
Pointer 1: Do your footwork
In the exfoliating foot-peel space, there are a lot of brands at a lot of different price points, from the $4.99 CVS version to one that will run you 10 times more (by a brand called FootGod). To narrow the field, seek input from people you trust (and whose feet you’re familiar with) who have embarked on this skin-shedding adventure before. That’s how I ended up on Team Baby Foot, which was recommended by a veteran foot soldier in our pedicure posse.
The Baby Foot gel-filled plastic booties are made in Japan and distributed by Springfield, Miss.-based Baby Foot U.S.A. The brand’s $25 boxes are emblazoned with the boast “Original foot peel since 1997,” so it’s got that going for it. (More on how to make this an alone/together group activity below.)
Second, once you’ve picked your poison, click around the internet to find an e-tailer that can deliver it to your doorstep in a timely manner; not only can the process take as long as three weeks but there’s been a Baby Foot boom of late. (A company representative says there has been “a significant increase in sales” recently.)
Our Baby Foot delivery came from Amazon, although it’s also currently available at Ulta Beauty and Baby Foot’s own website, babyfoot.com. If you go with the Baby Foot brand, here’s an additional tip: The only differences between the Original Exfoliating Foot Peel and the men’s version are that the latter’s plastic booties accommodate two larger foot sizes (up to a men’s size 14) and the goo inside is mint-scented as opposed to the former’s lavender scent.
Pointer 2: Make it a group activity
If possible, recruit a few like-minded, gnarly-footed friends to join you (virtually, of course) as you embark on your foot-burnishing journey.
It not only provides a sense of shared adventure but also a support group when large swaths of skin start circling your shower drain. My friend Heather, a writer, teacher and author of a recent piece for The Times, organized our recent seven-person, 14-foot molting crew with a group chat that looped in a Baby Foot veteran from Boston to guide our voyage. The group included feet from Thousand Oaks to Napa.
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Over the course of nearly a month, the “Baby Feet” text thread unspooled many a terror-inducing status update, a handful of helpful hints (for example, stay seated while you’re booted up, since the combination of the gel and the plastic booties makes walking a slippery proposition even for the sure-footed) and at least three uses of the phrase “confetti sock bomb.”
Pointer 3: Put in some overtime
An additional piece of valuable advice gleaned from the Baby Feet Bunch? Give your feet a 15-minute warm-water presoak before sliding into those gel-filled booties. (This recommendation does appear on the back of the Baby Foot box but in a font so small you might well miss it.)
Also, once your extremities are marinating, don’t be afraid to go a little longer than the one hour recommended in the instructions. Our veteran foot soldier had accidentally soaked a full two hours and emerged with still-intact feet (she did not, to be clear, recommend that to us because her misstep was the result of not being able to read the Korean-language instructions that accompanied her peel packet).
The four feet in our home pushed the clock an extra half-hour and soaked for 1 ½ hours. (It’s also noted in the instructions but bears repeating here: You shouldn’t try this product if you have any open cuts or sores on your feet.)
Pointer 4: Do a daily soak
After removing the booties and washing your feet, you’ve got five to seven days before your feet start to bubble, blister and shed most reptilian-like. For the record, the shedding is painless, and you can do everything you normally would — including exercise — while your feet are peeling. Do not squander this precious time!
A daily 10- to 15-minute foot soak (or, at a bare minimum, spending a few extra minutes sloshing your feet around in the shower) will pay dividends once the one-time gel application (the gooey gel is a mixture of alcohol, glycolic acid, a laundry list of unpronounceable chemicals , and fruit and plant extracts) begins to works its magic.
Pointer 5: Use some elbow grease on those feet
Once your feet start to flake, you have two choices. One is to sit back and watch the outermost layer of your epidermis peel off (pro tip: Wear socks, especially when you go to bed at night, if you want to stay in the good graces of your cohabitants).
The other is to lean in (well, down, actually) and give your trotters a vigorous daily in-shower scrubbing. But do not forcibly peel them. Let that part happen of its own volition. Applying a little elbow grease was an additional Baby Feet chat thread recommendation, and half our home (not the me half) followed that advice while the other half did not.
The result was that the not-me half saw a more robust and larger-scale sloughing, while my molting detritus resembled something halfway between pencil-eraser castoffs and grated Parmesan cheese.
The end result was better on my wife’s feet than on mine too, although in fairness it’s an apples-to-velociraptor-claw comparison.
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In the end, neither of us emerged with anything close to what we’d call baby feet. When the exfoliating finally came to an end, hers were closer to teenager feet and mine had Benjamin Buttoned back a few decades to not-quite-as-crack-heeled 30-something feet that were at least a marked improvement over the Flintstonian callus slabs with which I’d started.
And now that I’ve gone from tough to tender-footed, I know what to expect and am excited at the prospect of shaving a few more years (and maybe half a shoe size) off my hellacious hooves.
And there’s no reason I can’t. According to the Baby Foot instructions, it’s safe to use again (with a fresh pair of booties, mind you) as long as one observes a two-week waiting period. Now, having sufficiently cooled my somewhat softer heels, I’m looking forward to rebooting and getting my molt on all over again.
Baby feet, here I come!
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