If you’re an avid runner, you know it can do a number on your feet, especially if you’re training for a race and logging a ton of miles. You might want to treat yourself to a pedicure to reward your poor toes for their hard work. The thing is, depending on how much running you’re doing, the rough, calloused skin that’s developed may actually be your friend.
That doesn’t mean pedicures are off-limits for runners—in fact, done the right way, a pedicure every now and then can keep your feet and nails clean and healthy.
Here’s what experts have to say about getting a pedicure when you’re a runner, including what you should ask for and what you should avoid, to keep your feet in tip-top shape.
It’s true that when you’re training for a race or otherwise running a lot, calluses can be helpful.
For those who want their feet to look smooth and feel soft, callus removal is great. But for runners, calluses provide a layer of protection against friction, and removing them can leave the smooth, soft skin vulnerable to painful sores and blisters, says Sonia Batra, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles.
Besides removing a protective layer, removing your calluses may open you up to the risk for infection, simply for the fact that you may damage the skin in the process. “Nicks or cuts in the skin from callus removal can serve as a doorway for bacteria or fungus,” Dr. Batra says. While that’s a small risk for any person, the moist, warm environment in running shoes can increase the chance that unwanted microorganisms will set up shop.
When you’re not actively training, it’s okay to use a sanding tool—like a pumice stone—to lightly diminish calluses.
Avoid the microplane (the cheese-grater-like foot file) at all costs, says Jennifer Purnell, licensed nail technician and owner of September Nail Salon in Germantown, Tennessee. Using microplanes in nail salons is actually illegal in some states, and most professional nail technicians won’t allow it regardless of the law, she says.
Why? There are serious sanitation concerns: The microplane can cause small cuts in the skin, which give bacteria and fungus a chance to cause an infection, says Dr. Batra. Plus, removing calluses this way can make the skin raw and irritated.
It’s okay, though, to sand down calluses with a smoothing tool such as a pumice stone, says Purnell. She suggests using it in the shower one to two times per week, or just with your routine pedicure. This can help buff away some of the dead skin and smooth the surface safely. But again, it’s probably best to save this for when your running volume is low.
Never let someone cut or file off your blisters.
Blisters happen. The best way to deal with one is by covering it up with a bandage and letting it heal on its own. If it’s large and painful, you may need to drain it—but never, ever cut off (or let someone else cut off) a blister.
“While it is safe to drain the fluid from the base of a blister with a sterile needle, you should never remove the top layer of skin” Dr. Batra says. (The American Academy of Dermatology gives tips for how to do it safely and when you should enlist the help of a professional.) The top layer of skin protects the raw skin underneath from infection and allows the area to heal. Removing it can leave the area feeling sore and sensitive at best, and open to infection at worst. (This advice holds whether or not you are a runner.)
Also, if you do have a blister (either a new one or an open/recently drained one), it’s a good idea to hold off on a pedicure until the skin is healed, since, again, any open cut increases the risk for infection.
But, if you take the right precautions, there are also some great benefits of pedicures for runners.
Let's say you don't have any blisters or open cuts from training to worry about getting infected, and you know you can decline the callus removal if you need that protection during your run. If that's the case, getting a pedicure is a totally reasonable and safe splurge.
“Routine pedicures can help prevent problems such as ingrown toenails and hangnails that can rip off and cause pain,” says Dana Canuso, M.D., podiatric surgeon and founder of Dr. Canuso Skincare for Feet. Having trimmed toenails will also prevent them from banging against the front of your sneakers with every stride, ultimately decreasing the chance you’ll end up with bruising underneath the nails, she says.
“Athlete's foot is also a common concern among runners, and getting a pedicure may help to clean the bacteria and fungus on the skin that can cause problems,” she explains.
Plus, a good scrub is usually more effective than just taking a shower. “Pedicures give feet a good soaking and cleaning with soap, and are much more thorough than the cleaning they get from just standing in the shower,” Dr. Batra says. “This deeper cleaning more effectively removes dirt, bacteria and buildup, decreasing the risk for infections like athlete’s foot,” she explains.
The massage and bath can also feel relaxing and soothing for runners with tight muscles and rough patches on their skin. “When salons soak your feet in warm water and massage them with oil or lotion, this helps to preserve moisture and prevent cracking or blisters,” says Dr. Batra. And no runner can deny the glory of a foot and calf massage.
Here’s what to tell your nail technician if you’re a frequent runner looking for a pedicure that won’t interfere with your running.
After picking your polish and nestling into the glorious massage chair, tell your nail technician that you are a runner, you’re training for a race, and you’re looking for a gentle pedicure. They might know to be extra cautious during the treatment, but if not, don’t be shy when asking to skip certain treatments. Here are some things to specifically ask for:
- Tell them you want to keep your calluses intact.
- Ask them not to remove your cuticles. Cuticles actually serve an important function—we need them to seal the skin to the nail plate, and removing them can lead to infection (for runners and nonrunners alike). Dr. Canuso adds that even trimming the cuticles a tiny bit increases the risk that the technician may accidentally take off too much. “While getting a pedicure, especially one where you soak your feet, the top protective layer of skin on your feet can get very soft and break down. When skin is soft and unprotected, it is very easy for a nail technician to accidentally slip and cut the skin or cuticle,” says Dr. Canuso.
- Ask them to trim your toenails short. Ideally you’re looking to take off the white part but stop before reaching the nail bed. “If it hurts to cut, it is too short,” says Dr. Batra. Long toenails can cut into the skin of neighboring toes and cause bleeding; plus, long toenails, combined with any downhill running, can lead to subungual hematoma (or bleeding under the toenail), which can potentially result in loss of the nail, she adds. And if you’re prone to ingrown toenails, you might benefit from trimming them straight across rather than rounded, as rounded toenail edges can cause the nail to grow into the skin, explains Dr. Batra.
The bottom line is that as long as you set some ground rules, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy pedicures as you train.
Dr. Canuso also suggests making your last pedicure at least two weeks out from race day. That way, in case you do end up with any ingrown nails, sensitive spots, or other unexpected foot issues, you’ll have enough time to get it sorted out beforehand, she says. We’re all for treating yourself, but a spa day shouldn’t get in the way of you and your PR.