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With sandal season upon us, it's time to remember the pedicure dos and don'ts

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TORONTO - With sandal season finally upon us the instinct to pretty up your cracked heels, leathery soles and unpainted toes is a natural one. And with the proliferation of inexpensive nail bars in recent years, pedicures are within reach, pricewise, for a lot of people.

But if you luxuriate in the foot soaking and secretly relish the callus shaving part of a pedicure, what follows is advice you won't want to read.

The people who face the at times serious problems created by pedicures that go awry say there are definite dos and (mostly) don'ts to consider when you set off for some foot pampering.

Dr. Jacqueline Sutera lists the potential consequences of infections triggered by a pedicure.

"These can be very small and benign and treatable with like a topical antibiotic or soap. And in worst-case scenarios, especially in the elderly or people with diabetes or poor circulation, this can be limb- and life-threatening, if not treated right away," says Sutera, a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medicine Association.

"I have seen people lose parts of their toes, parts of their foot and even their leg from ingrown toe nails that started as bacterial infections."

Here is some advice from podiatrists, who spend years in school learning how to tend to one of our most precious body parts, our feet:

DO: Bring your own instruments.

Dr. Joseph Stern, president of the Canadian Podiatric Medical Association, says nail bars should have lots of sets of tools so they can autoclave them between uses — clean them in a sterilizing device that uses high-pressure hot steam. But not all do.

The way around that concern is to bring all your own equipment. That becomes especially important for items that are sometimes reused but which won't withstand autoclaving.

"The question is — if they use a pumice stone on you, how does the pumice stone get cleaned so they can use it on the next person?" asks Stern, a Vancouver-based podiatrist.

"I don't know if you can really, truly clean a pumice stone."

Sutera agrees. "For any type of instrument that cannot be sterilized, it is especially important to bring your own stuff to the salon, such as pumice stones or the wooden sticks for your cuticles, nail files, nail buffers, foot files. Any of that stuff should be your own, that no one else uses."

DON'T: Get your calluses shaved.

Sutera says cutting is surgery and should only be done by someone trained to do it. "In the salons, the most that I think is appropriate is just filing some of the calluses. And that should be done gently."

Both Stern and Sutera say they advise patients that if they need calluses tended to, they should get that work done by their podiatrist. Both say they do what Sutera calls a pre-pedicure — treating calluses and trimming nails properly. Then patients can go to a nail bar to get their toe nails painted.

DO: Time your pedicure strategically.

There is a risk that when a salon is really busy, instruments and foot baths won't get properly cleaned between clients, says Sutera, a podiatrist who practises in Manhattan and northern New Jersey.

She suggests people get a pedicure early in the day on a weekday.

DON'T: Soak in the whirlpool.

They feel great on the feet, but whirlpool foot baths need to be thoroughly cleaned between uses, including drains where sloughed-off skin can get trapped. And there have been reports of people picking up bacterial and fungal infections by immersing their feet in whirlpool foot baths.

"You've got to be worried about who was there before you," says Stern, who suggests a foot massage with lotion as an alternative.

Some salons now use plastic liners in their foot baths, says Sutera, while others offer dry pedicures.

DON'T: Shave your legs before going for a pedicure.

Shaving leaves micro-tears in the skin — perfect portals for bacteria which might be floating around that foot bath you may insist on using despite the advice above.

DO: Give your toe nails a breather.

Nail polish should be removed at least every two to three weeks, says Sutera. Otherwise the nails get dehydrated.

Stern says he advises his patients to give their toe nails a break come September and October, when sandals are put away.

DON'T: Cut your cuticles.

The skin surrounding the nail is a form of protection, Sutera says. She suggests people can soften the skin with oils or creams and push it back gently. But it shouldn't be trimmed unless you have a hangnail.

DO: Be ultra cautious if you are diabetic.

An occasional and dangerous result of diabetes is neuropathy — the death of nerves in the extremities. Feet are particularly vulnerable and foot care is hugely important for diabetics. Because they may not feel an injury, it can progress to the point of a serious infection without the person being aware.

"I currently have a (diabetic) patient right now who ... goes to a wound care centre every other day because she's got an ulcer that started as an infection that started as an ingrown toe nail that she went to the nail salon for instead of me," says Sutera.

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