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How to Get Your Gnarly Winter Feet Ready for Sandals

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Model wearing mesh mule sandals with red polish on toes.

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It’s finally bare-legs and open-toed-shoe season, which is absolutely great except for one thing: Winter totally beat up my feet. The season has a tendency to leave its mark by way of cracks, calluses, and dryness.

The obvious solution here would be to head to the salon for a pedicure every other week, but to be completely honest, I’m busy and not rich. So instead, I’m opting to care for my feet — like, actually care for them thoroughly — with products and tools at home.

For a little guidance, I called on nail guru Jin Soon Choi, owner of the NYC hand and foot spa JINsoon, as well as the popular polish line by the same name, for her expert tips on how to rehab winter-worn feet.

1. Tackle calluses and dry spots first.

According to Choi, you want to approach calluses differently depending on roughness. For very mild calluses, Choi suggests using a foot pumice stone in the shower daily, such as the Tweezerman Sole Smoother ($20). “It has an ergonomic handle, making it easy to use,” says Choi. Use the coarse side to exfoliate your rougher spots, and then follow up by using the opposite side to smooth out the bottoms and around the toes. (This is the kind of tool you can just keep in your bathroom all summer and use proactively after a day at the beach or a festival, or whenever you’re really putting your feet to work all day.)

For medium to bad calluses, Choi suggests using a grinder callus remover or an electric pedicure foot file that doesn’t require any water, noting not to use either too vigorously. “You want to remove the callus, nothing more!” Choi says.

Gray handheld foot smoothing tool.

Blue and white electronic foot file.

To do so, I’ve been using the Amopé Pedi Perfect Electronic Foot File ($28.46), which I discovered on Amazon and purchased because of its rave reviews (and the gnarly before-and-after photos). Over the winter, I developed some really rough spots on my heels and on the sides of my toes (from some shoes I was too stubborn to stop wearing), and this has really worked miracles.

The handheld, battery-operated roller file works best on clean, dry feet. I will say it took about 15 minutes per foot to get to them as smooth as I wanted them to be, but a callus is multiple layers of dead skin, so patience is necessary.

2. Lather your feet in moisturizer or softening creams, put on socks immediately after, and let it all sink in.

You’ve probably heard this tip before, but according to Choi, it can really work wonders. “It absolutely works! My mother taught me that trick in my early childhood,” Choi shares. For efficiency, you’ll definitely want to work this step in post-exfoliation and -smoothing — think about it as a last step before bed.

You can use moisturizer and cotton socks you already have, but there are also tons of options for slightly more heavy-duty “spa socks,” which are basically nylon socks with a gel lining that softens the heel and releases essential oils to moisturize the feet. I wore the Queentools Moisturizing Socks ($13.40) every night for about a week and saw some really great results. Just after one night, there was a noticeable difference in the softness of my feet. They’re surprisingly re-useable, and if you hand-wash as directed, you can get about three months out of them.

Pink socks.

Round metal tin with shea butter balm inside.

When I’m looking for something quicker and more on-the-go, I moisturize with the Fig + Yarrow Alpine Foot Butter ($18/$10 for travel-size), which is whipped organic shea butter and coconut oil. The consistency is great — it’s creamy and balm-like without all of the greasiness — and because it’s also made with lavender, tea tree, and fir needle essential oil, it has a really soothing smell. I’ll use this before bed and in the mornings to avoid an ashy foot and ankle, and I can really feel (and see) the hydration for hours.

3. Surprise! The best way to avoid blisters is to wear comfortable shoes.

“If you feel any tightness or friction while walking, you can be sure that will turn into a blister,” says Choi. “When that happens, you must keep the blister clean and cover it with a bandage while wearing your most comfortable shoes.” It may seem like common sense, but if you’re anything like me, there are still times you’ll put your feet in uncomfortable shoes and then act surprised when they get all beat up.

Still, sometimes — especially in hot, humid weather, when your feet are most prone to rubbing — it happens. To try and avoid them, I recommend Body Glide’s low-maintenance Foot Glide ($8). Sure, the name is a little gross-sounding, but this isn’t wet, greasy, or slippery; it feels and looks like a little dry deodorant stick. You apply it wherever you feel most vulnerable to chafing, rubbing, or usual blister spots, which is what I did with a pair of shoes that always seems to cause me tenderness and blisters on the sides of my toes. I didn’t get any of that using the foot glide, so A+ there.

If and when you do get a blister, however, keep it clean and covered with a bandage and stick to comfy shoes — no matter how un-cute it looks. “Resist the urge to pop the blister! Doing so will only prolong the healing time and increase the chances of infection,” says Choi.

Got all that down? Great. Now all you need is the perfect pair of sandals and the right polish color, and you’re good to go.

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