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Why Nails Need a Winter Vacation

By Amalah

Photo by Betsssssy
Hi Amy,
I am a 26 year old grad student living in DC. Because my mother is always right about everything, her prediction that I would reach an age where being a lady would be in my best interest – well, that time has come. Not just dressing up, but doing all the other things that make you feel good about yourself and putting forth the extra effort required because my body’s astounding metabolism at age 19 is gone forever. For me, this has included, you know, buying lady clothing (no more sweats everywhere), wearing lady shoes (sigh, no more Black converse for everything), ditching the CVS products and going philo$ophy, going to the gym, eating better, etc, etc. And, she was right, it’s been nice to, duh, do nice things for myself.
I still won’t get my hair done – too emotional, advice for another day. Here’s the easy question: recommendations for a nice place to get a pedicure in DC? I never ever got pedicures before, and I started getting one at this pricey, but amazing place in Capitol Hill. Everything is clean, well-lit, and basically met all the requirements in a post of yours I read earlier.
My only concern is that since getting pedicures, I feel like my nails are not as healthy as when I didn’t. Does this make any sense? Before, I would just trim and clean myself, and NEVER painted my toes ever (total tomboy, totally against). They weren’t professionally done to be sure, but maintained. Now, I feel like my toe nails are yellower in color, and I get dead/cracked skin underneath the nails. This past summer I would get a pedicure every two weeks, but stopped getting them about three months ago because of the aforementioned concerns.
I know you have touched on this subject before – but any advice on maintenance between pedicures? What of pedicures that make your feet worse? Should I be going elsewhere? Am I not meant to be indulging this fine lady custom?
Thanks very much,
a local fan

So the problem here is not WHERE you’re getting your pedicures, or even the pedicures themselves. It’s the polish. Polish is just not GOOD for your nails. It usually contains formaldehyde and polish remover often contains acetone and both can be pretty damaging to your nails after constant non-stop exposure. We put polish on for cosmetic reasons, not to make our nails healthy. It’s like any make-up, really. Sure, my skin would probably have fewer problems if I stopped using foundation altogether, but…I prefer the way I look when I wear foundation. So I wear foundation, and then try to take a few extra steps to keep my skin healthy and clean in spite of it.
This includes…washing the foundation OFF. Which is what we should all be doing with our toenail polish every now and then.
For optimal foot and nail health, this means regular pedicures and polish ONLY in the spring and summer, when the weather actually allows open-toed shoes and regular exposure to like, AIR and SUNSHINE. That’s about May through October, here in DC. Remove the polish yourself in-between appointments and treat any brittleness or yellowing with some tea tree oil and lemon juice.
In the winter, keep your nails polish-free as often as possible. Seriously, your toes need a winter vacation. Pedicures on an as-needed basis only, like before parties or vacations.
(In the interest of full disclosure on my own hypocrisy: I got a pedicure right before my baby’s birth in mid-October…and then left the polish on forEVER, until it was practically disintegrating off my toes, and got totally scolded over the cracked state of my nails by a Russian manicurist in JANUARY when I got my toes done for my husband’s holiday party. “You take polish off TOMORROW. You no wear polish until JUNE. You will get the FUNGUS!”)
If your pedicure appointments are the only thing prompting you to remember to take care of your nails, or are your only little escape from a house full of needy children, that’s fine — skip the polish. (And clear polish is still polish.) If you simply MUST polish, at least remove it as soon as it chips instead of touching it up. I love painted toenails as much as anybody, but the recovery time is essential, because I, for one, do not find toenail fungus very attractive, you know? Damaged, yellowed, brittle nails are more prone to fungus — no matter how nice of a salon you’re going to. Yeah. Yum.
(Are y’all reaching for the polish remover yet?) (EDITOR: TOTALLY)
(If your feet get dry and cracked in the winter, by the way, avoid going barefoot. Yes, even inside the house — once you turn on the heat, the air gets dry and so do your heels. Wear socks or slippers.)
The extra build-up of dead skin under your nails is a bit of a puzzler — I mean, we all get that, but there’s nothing about pedicures that should make it WORSE. Maybe whatever sanitizing stuff they use in the water is too harsh for you? Do you wear sneakers or other closed-toed shoes without socks or hose a lot? Either way, get yourself a little nail grooming kit and dig that stuff out whenever you see it.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Lucy

    March 19, 2009 at 11:41 am

    I had a couple of other thoughts…
    1) Every two weeks for a pedi seems an awful lot. I wonder if the skin around/under the nails isn’t feeling a bit overly-harassed with a two weekly thorough digging and perhaps a once-a-month thing might be better?
    2) I wonder if the build up of the ick under the nails when there’s polish on has something to do with the fact that you can’t SEE that stuff when there’s polish, so probably don’t do as much ‘minor upkeep’. Ie: sitting on the couch, watching tv, and picking away at yourself on the bits you can see need picking at. I find that when I have polish on my nails for a few days, and remove it, I am usually HORRIFIED at how dirty my nails look under there. I never let them get that way when there’s no polish and I can see every little thing that gets stuck, you know?

  • Eris

    March 19, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    It seems like some nails just have a poor tolerance to any kind of nail polish period. I’ve tried all the snazzy brands, all the basecoats, manicures, everything out there short of forty buck a pop nailposih but my nails, both finger and toe, yellow and turn brittle after just a few days of polish. My sister, on the other hand, can go for weeks with a good pedi and never has nail strength issue. I get plenty of calcium and eat a healthy diet, this has just been an issue my whole life. I remember when painted nails were super in during my teen years and I just didn’t understand how girls did it because I didn’t get that everyone’s nails are different. I would say if your fingernails also have a poor tolerance to polish you might just not be a nailpolish person. It sucks, I know, but such is life.

  • Jenno

    March 19, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    This reminded me of something I’ve always meant to check out. I’ve heard that if/when your nails (toe and finger) start to yellow from nail polish on too long that you can 1. use a baby sized drop of toothpaste and a soft toothbrush to lightly scrub or 2) use a bit of hydrogen peroxide mixed/diluted with water on a cotton ball to swipe over the nails to remove/bleach the yellow color. Has anyone else ever heard of these things? Does anyone know if they are bad for your nails or if they work? One can read a lot of tips in various magazines found in the cardio room of the gym, but that doesn’t mean I’m brave enough to try them.

  • Stephanie

    March 19, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    OMG! I’m totally grabbing for the nail polish remover. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have polish on my toes. Dang.

  • Catherine

    March 19, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    I was going to say the same thing as Lucy – every two weeks seems a little excessive. I live in Hollywood where it’s practically a LAW that you have manicured/pedicured nails at all times and (almost) no one I know goes every two weeks. I think that’s def. part of the problem — you have to give your feet a break from being poked at! 🙂 Once a month would probably be better, just to give them a break.

  • Jen.

    March 19, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Cracked skin under/by nails is actually a form of foot fungus, the start of something called mocassin foot.
    STOP the pedicures, get yourself some over-the-counter Lamisil cream and use it twice daily for a month, rubbing on your feet, around your nail beds, and under the nail beds. Then, wash your hands. Do this for about a month and you should see an improvement.
    Hope this helps.
    Fungus is tenacious

  • Jess

    March 19, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    While I totally agree that your nails need a break…I cannot get behind the no nail polish. I just think nails look weird and gross without polish…but maybe that’s just because I’ve been conditioned by “THE MAN” to be all feminine and shit.
    Anyway…I think Lucy might be on to something with the once a month pedicure. I think the way those ladies dig and cut away at your toes is way too harsh for every two weeks. Plus all their products seem harsher and their nail polish not as good as the Essie I use during my at home pedis.

  • Peggasus

    March 19, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Yes, I only do my toenails when it gets warm enough to wear sandals, which in Illinois is usually about late May. But then they are constantly polished until sandal season is over.
    When I do do them (and I do them myself), I use this OPI kit I bought at Ulta: it has ChipSkip (goes on first), Top Coat (self-explanatory), and the middle one is Natural Nail Base Coat, whose description reads: “Enriched formula prevents staining of natural nails and promotes a long-lasting manicure.”
    My toes look nice, it does last a long time, and there is no discoloration when I remove it and changes colors. It works for me.

  • Emily

    March 19, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Try Sesen Spa on Church Street in Vienna. They are fanatical about cleaniness (to the point of each client getting her own sealed package of sterilized tools) and have extremely reasonable prices. I swear it’s better than Red Door, for far less money. I really don’t work there…I’ve just spent the better part of 5 yrs looking for the perfect nail salon in/around DC and lo, I found it. (Also – all of their polishes are their own brand, and formaldehyde and yucky-stuff free.)

  • class factotum

    March 20, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Oh. I didn’t know this give your nails a break rule. Ever since I discovered pedicures a few years ago and saw how awesome my feet could look, I have kept my toenails polished. This has been particularly important this winter, as I just moved to the frozen north and need something to make me feel like I look decent underneath five layers of clothes as my new husband (he who tricked me here) and I refuse to pay more than $300/month to heat our house so wear all our clothes at once to stay warm. My other stay warm strategy has been to gain 20 pounds, which also makes me feel wonderful.
    My husband the engineer does a great job of painting my nails between pedicures (he used to highlight my hair before that stopped working to blend the gray and I had to surrender and just cover it all with Clairol #24 Clove), but I also found the technical college, which has a beauty school. Pedicures for $12. It takes an hour and a half, but the students are very, very careful and the teacher is checking up on them constantly. They do a good job and don’t poke my toes. I don’t notice that the nails are particularly yellow when the polish is off, but then, I have really bad vision and don’t wear my glasses unless I am driving because I don’t accidentally want to see myself and all my new wrinkles in a mirror.

  • Ginny

    March 20, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Thank you Amy!! A friend of mine wanted to go get pedis in January and I told her that I don’t do pedis in winter.(We live in Chicago.) She acted like it was a weird, yet quaint, affectation of mine. Mostly I like to give my feet a break for all the reasons you stated, but also because of the expense. Why bother spending the dough if only me and my husband are seeing it on those rare winter occasions that my feet are nekkid? My only question is about the non-formaldehyde polish–That’s what I used on my last two summer pedis and my nails are still white-ish and dry some 6 months later. What’s UP with that? I also agree that it should be AT LEAST a month between sessions. But, then we’ve established…I’m cheap.

  • Diane

    November 1, 2015 at 9:59 am

    I disagree with the conclusion drawn: Winter is the time when you are MOST in need of a pedicure because your feet have become so dry. Polish is just a small part of a pedicure, which is a procedure to soften, invigorate and cleanse your feet. In the fall/winter, just tell the tech to skip the polish. I get a pedicure every 3 weeks in the spring/summer (but during this period, I change my polish), and once a month in the fall/winter.