Don't neglect your feet just because they've slipped out of view.
Toes that twinkled in sandals a few months back are now firmly under cover in boots. They may be tucked away, but are yours in a fit state to emerge? Like it or not, feet still have to face the world, even in winter, be it simply to step out of bed or the shower or for those occasions when they are encased in evening heels.
If you are the sort of person who would rather not expose your feet, take a long hard look at them and decide why. Perhaps they are suffering from neglect, or possibly you are being a bit paranoid - beauty therapists reassure me that I am far from alone in considering my little toe a mutant - but if the cause of your unease is more serious, something that cannot be remedied with a bit of DIY, then book in to see a chiropodist.
If your feet simply need some TLC, treat them to a soak and a spruce up. Regularly pumice the rough bits and slather on some foot cream. Balms tend to be thicker and greasier so are best worn under bed socks.
Clip nails straight across when they are at their softest, after a bath or shower.
Push back your cuticles (you can use your towel or a cuticle stick), then use a gentle file to smooth any rough nail edges. To impart a healthy natural shine to the nail surface, use a buffer. If you use polish apply a base coat to get more mileage from your efforts and to deter nail discolouration.
Painting toe nails is an easy and inexpensive personal pep-up that will add a touch of brightness to your day. Salon-applied gel polishes have become a popular choice for those escaping to the tropics, as they are more resistant to chipping than lacquer. If kicking up your heels on the beach is not on the agenda, save the money by grooming your toes at home. Can't be bothered? Then turn a chore into a catch-up, by trading-in brunch for a weekend pedicure or foot massage with a girlfriend.
Foot-care products fall into two categories: primarily pampering and those with more heavy duty ingredients, some of which don't sound that sweet.
Urea is one of the most common. This skin-matching synthetic substance (also found naturally in urine and the body, including the upper skin layers) is a repairing moisturising agent. Because it can be greasy you are more likely to find it in foot than face creams. Silicones help form a barrier layer to protect fragile skin.
Oil industry-derived ingredients raise issues of sustainability, but are often added as economical and effective emollients. Mineral oil and petrolatum are common in foot, hand and lip products and not just the cheaper ones.
Consumers may choose to seek out natural alternatives of which New Zealand is well supplied. (Common pharmacy brands such as Tebe and Apicare are well-priced starting points.) Vegans should read labels carefully, as lanolin and beeswax - as well as plant-derived natural options - are often used.
1. Gehwol Bath Salts $36.80 (for 10 sachets boxed) and Gehwol Foot Cream $31.70
The bath salts with rosemary oil can be used to make a fragrant foot bath. Soak feet first, then use an exfoliating mitt to provide a circulation boost. Each box contains 10 sachets. Gehwol is a specialist German company that makes a range of foot creams, including an intriguing one containing chilli for a warming effect, another using imported New Zealand manuka honey and a heavy duty option trampers might like to check out. Its thick barrier cream will help prevent blisters, odour and sweating. It contains petrolatum, lanolin and plant oils. (From podiatrists and selected beauty therapists, for stockist details ph 0800 842 546.)
2. This Works Perfect Heels Rescue Balm $50
Hail this pricey peppermint-free cream for forgoing the usual minty smell of many foot products for aromas of lemon and lavender. As well as a host of plant-based goodies, it contains urea and lanolin. From here.
3. Bridget Black Peppermint Foot Balm $30
Choose from this balm, a scrub, or a soak - or buy all three as a set - from a former Australian pharmacist's attractive and authentic gift range.
4. Weleda Foot Balm $21.90
Olive oil and beeswax are key ingredients in this non-greasy natural product. It also contains calendula and antibacterial myrrh to help with perspiration and bacteria. (Health food stores and selected pharmacies.)
5. DU'IT Foot & Heel Balm Plus $13.90
This is a non-glam, non-steroid cream, without lanolin, parabens or oil industry products. It has a high dose of urea, and contains dimethicone, but also lactic acid and fruit oils. Recommended as a five-day crash course in foot recovery. (Pharmacies and supermarkets.)
6. Clarins Foot Beauty Treatment Cream $45
Shea butter and cashew nut oil get the write-up on the side of the box, but mineral oil is in evidence higher up the ingredient list. This smells good, absorbs well and has arnica to help with foot fatigue. (Selected department stores, pharmacies and salons.)
7. Mossops Daily Aid Multi-Purpose Balm $20.30
Any good balm will help moisturise feet including this natural local choice from Bay of Plenty with antibacterial manuka honey. Mossops also make the more targeted Funky Feet Balm.
8. Dr LeWinn's Revitalising Hand & Foot Polish $39.90
The idea is to use this mix of sea salt, nut and plant oils to give your skin a spa-style rub-down. Much as I like the uplifting orange aroma and smoothing effect I can't imagine using this regularly. (Department stores and pharmacies.)
Two treatments with very different approaches prove a treat for feet.
The posh pedicure
With all the sandpapering and scraping a thorough pedicure entails, the idea of falling asleep during one seem preposterous - until I tried the Deluxe Spa version at the Pullman hotel. Fortunately, unlike the deep sleep induced by an occasional excellent facial, no dribbling was involved.
I did, however, definitely nod off. Not during the heavy duty action or polish application, but while being massaged in the middle. Perhaps it was the extended 90-minute treatment time that helped send me snoozing, but no complaints about that. Though pedicures have always been among my favourite beauty treatments - because they yield such obvious improvement - I'd never thought of them as especially relaxing. They are usually a means to an end: a series of steps of varying degrees of enjoyment from a pleasant soak to a ticklish pumice to a nippy nail trim and cuticle tidy. Some nice foot manipulation is a bonus and the toe painting and drying thing a bit of a bore, but worth it for the tidier finish than I can achieve.
This pedicure was elevated out of the ordinary, despite my lying mostly flat on my back. The spa surrounds helped, as did the fragrant foot soak, the fruit acid exfoliation and the cooling mask applied to moisturise my feet and legs before they were skilfully massaged. Nothing could be further from a quick paint job at the mall than lolling about in a top class hotel for the afternoon. Rather than slopping out of the shops in jandals, you can lie back and watch paint dry while sipping herbal tea in a relaxation room. (If you're the energetic type, check in well ahead of your treatment time and try the hotel's gym and pool facilities).
This isn't priced accessibly for a weekly toe tickle-up, but it is a top treat. The downside compared with the mall is that there's not the same colour selection of polishes, but with a pedicure that lasts like this one you'll want a classic colour anyway.
* The Deluxe Spa Pedicure at the Pullman Auckland costs $120. Ph (09) 3551242.
The foot fetishist
Sitting watching someone wield a scalpel to lift wafers of my skin is a little unsettling, but the Bliss man knows what he is doing so I try to focus on my magazine. Great care is taken to remove only what needs to go, those bark-like bits where shoes have rubbed smooth skin into dry defences.
My feet have been soaked into softness and I feel little more than some chipping away as he edges around my hardened heels, tawdry toes and the scuffed up balls of my feet. The remains of blisters are lifted away.
The results in under half an hour are a revelation. The blade is less vigorous and much more effective than pumice. It's like micro-surgery for mildly munted feet. Nails are trimmed. Polish is not an option at Bliss, but a reflexology massage can be an add-on. Because the manicurist moves between the various spas, pre-booking is essential. (For ingrained rather than superficial problems do consult a chiropodist). I'm planning to add this pedicure to my seasonal maintenance list.
* The Chinese Traditional Pedicure costs $49 for the 25-minute Paradise treatment or $69 for the 50-minute Nirvana from Bliss Reflexology's Auckland spas.