What is a Diabetic Pedicure and Why is it Safer?

What is a diabetic pedicure, and is it safe for us? main image

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What is a diabetic pedicure? Can I be honest with you? I’ve had diabetes more than 30 years and I didn’t even know this was a thing until just recently! Did you?

With the potential issues that can happen during a pedicure, a diabetic pedicure basically helps us avoid the chance of getting a cut or tiny nicks while having our feet cared for. But how do you get that super-clean, just-pedicured look and feel with this type of pedicure? I will share both the issues and the remedies below.

What is a diabetic pedicure, and is it safe for us?

What is a Diabetic Pedicure?

It happened again. For the third time in a row. I went in to a local nail salon for a routine pedicure, and they cut my heel. If you’ve ever had a cut on your foot, you know how difficult it can be to get it to heal while you are walking and putting pressure on open skin on the soles of your feet. Thankfully, I realized it had happened and was able to care for myself at home. Luckily, nothing came of it and I avoided infection.

At that time, I had no idea there was such a thing as a diabetic pedicure. (I just wanted to look good in sandals!) But I was immediately intrigued when I heard about it. What is a diabetic pedicure? Would a diabetic pedicure keep them from chipping away at the skin on my feet and causing me pain?

A specialty diabetic pedicure is one that takes far greater care for someone with diabetes. There are pitfalls and potential injuries galore in a regular pedicure, and a diabetic-specific one takes caution to avoid those things and other serious foot problems.

What’s the Main Issue with a standard pedicure?

There are multiple issues with a standard pedicure, like the issue I experienced above. And I want to be clear — those issues are not unique to people with diabetes. Anyone can experience a cut on their heel during a pedicure. The main issue for diabetic patients is what happens (or can happen) next. Here are the two most common issues that cause concern for diabetics.

What is a diabetic pedicure? Foot problems caused by a pedicure. Woman holding her heel.

The Risk of Ingrown Toenails

If you’ve had a pedicure, you’ve been there. They are snipping your nails and they get out the cuticle clippers to cut the edges. Then they pull what they’ve clipped back to remove the very smallest edge of your toenail from beneath the skin. And just like that you have a beautifully shaped nail.

But with the cutting and snipping of toenails like this, you run the risk of uprooting the attached nail. This can cause an ingrown toenail. Ingrown nails can cause greater infection risk and other serious complications, and that’s what we’ll discuss next.

The solution to this particular issue is to clip the main part of the toenail to size, and then file the nail to shape instead of pulling and tugging on edges.

The Risk of Getting an Infection

A bacterial infection or fungal infection can happen from a pedicure as well. You can get an infection from an ingrown toenail, as I mentioned above. But it can also happen from instruments or other materials that aren’t properly cleaned. Again, this can happen to anyone getting a pedicure, but with diabetes it’s a bigger concern.

What happens is that a small cut or crack occurs to the skin, and bacteria, germs, or fungus can enter in. Why is this worse for someone with diabetes? It can take longer for our bodies to heal in general. That means there’s potentially an infection inside your body for a longer period of time. And that could cause the spread of infection to other areas and more serious consequences.

Going a step further, some medications to fight infection (including steroids) can have an impact on blood sugar levels. And that limits our ability to manage glucose levels, which makes it harder to heal. Do you see how this is really a circular problem?

A Friendly Reminder

Let’s remember that the vast majority of nail techs in salons are not medically trained. (That may be obvious, but it’s worth saying.) Their goal is to provide you with silky smooth feet and a beautiful polish job so that you are a happy paying customer who returns again. And they have lots of tools at their disposal to make that happen really well.

With that in mind, it’s that much more important for us to talk with the person doing our pedicure about what we are and are not comfortable with them doing. The responsibility of proper foot care is ultimately ours. So remind yourself that your pedicurist isn’t working with diabetes in mind unless you make it known to them and advocate for yourself.

What is a diabetic pedicure and what harm can a standard pedicure cause? Woman holding her foot looking at her toe.

Why Are Pedicures Such an Issue for Diabetics?

When you walk into the door of the nail salon, you are at higher risk. You’re not at higher risk of minor foot injury — that can happen to anyone in a salon chair. But you are at a higher risk for that causing something worse. But why?

1. Diabetes Affects the Immune System

In general, people with diabetes take a longer time to heal because diabetes affects our immune systems. So a simple cut or scrape can be an open wound for a longer period of time, and that puts us at a higher risk for an ulcer or risk of infection to form if that cut or scrape isn’t cared for properly.

It’s crazy to me how quickly the smallest of openings in our skin can cause issues. For example, our son (who isn’t diabetic) got a mosquito bite last fall. He evidently scratched it (because it itches and he was five years old) and he wound up in the hospital the next day needing IV antibiotics because the entire lower portion of his leg was swollen and red.

I don’t tell you this to make you worry. I tell you this to let you know that it’s important to care for any sort of open sores on our skin diligently. Because it will happen. That’s life. And sometimes it’s just unavoidable. But we can be knowledgeable and intentional in what we do when it happens.

Someone with diabetes taking insulin

2. Diabetes Affects Blood Flow

Diabetes in general can cause circulation problems and lower blood flow to different parts of the body — feet being one of them. That happens when blood vessels narrow or harden over time. This is why, over the long term, people with diabetes end up having foot amputations more often than those who don’t have diabetes. Poor circulation makes it even harder to heal from an infection.

Again, I don’t say this to scare you. I tell you this so that we know more and can do better to prevent these kinds of things. And we will get to some of those solutions here in just a bit.

3. A Common Complication of Diabetes can make it harder to feel an Injury

Is everyone with diabetes at a greater risk for issues with pedicures? No. The ADA says, “Foot problems most often happen when there is nerve damage.” Chronically high blood sugar levels can lead to loss of sensation and other types of issues as well.

The problem then, is that nerve damage causes a pain sensation, tingling or numbness, or it completely dulls sensations in our feet. With this diabetic neuropathy, we can end up getting a cut or scrape and not even realize it. When that goes unnoticed or untreated, infection gets in, and it starts wreaking havoc.

Perfect done diabetic pedicure and manicure

More Summer Tips

Are There Diabetic Friendly parts of Regular Pedicures?

Absolutely! That’s the good news. A few things in a standard pedicure can change to be more diabetic friendly, but not everything needs to. There is still good to be had!

For example, there is typically a massage involved in a pedicure. That’s great for someone with diabetes, as it encourages blood flow. A warm towel around our legs and feet is luxurious. And that’s a good thing because it helps blood flow as well. Another thing that comes to mind is the exfoliant-like gels or creams that help remove dead skin gently.

So we don’t have to “throw the baby out with the bath water” on this one. We don’t have to avoid pedicures altogether. We just need to be smart in the parts of a pedicure that are included and the instruments that are used.

So What is a diabetic pedicure?

People who have diabetes should get regular care for their feet. Diabetic foot care on a regular basis is actually super important! So what all is different about a diabetic pedicure? What should you ask your salon tech to provide for you (and maybe their other diabetic clients)?

First, the initial soak in the water should be limited to around five minutes. An extended soak can open small cracks in the skin. It can also cause sensitive skin to be even more dry if we soak them too long. Any added alcohols or fragrances in the water while we soak can dry skin as well.

Other than using clippers for toenails, nothing sharp should be used during the pedicure. This cuts way back on the chance for injury with a cut or scrape. Use a nail file to smooth edges.

Skin softeners can be used to treat any rough patches of skin or calluses. In fact, the longer they are on and working, the less scrubbing will be needed. The same goes for cuticle softeners. Let the various products used do their jobs fully.

Moisturizers should be used for sure. And an unscented moisturizer is preferred, as fragrances can be drying. However, trapped moisture can also cause issues, especially between toes. So take extra care that the moisturizer is absorbed before putting on a dry pair of socks.

Nail polish is not on the “no” list by any means. That’s completely non-invasive! So show off your summer colors and have fun with it!

What is a diabetic pedicure, and is it safe for us? main image

Other Ways to Safely Care for your Feet

Several sources online recommend bringing your own tools to a pedicure. I get what they’re saying, but can I just be real with you? If you’re considering doing this because you don’t think your salon cleans their tools properly, perhaps you should look for a cleaner salon in general. If they don’t clean their tools well, what else are they not cleaning?

Ask your endocrinologist or podiatrist to make a recommendation. Perhaps your foot doctor knows of better options or more of a medical-grade location for a pedicure if you are at a higher risk. Maybe they are familiar with an appropriate treatment option you don’t yet know about.

Consider finding a medspa for more of a medical pedicure. That’s if you live in or near a city where there is one available. Sometimes a medical spa can be hard to find. And you may need to call and make sure that’s a service they provide. Many of them only list more high-end procedures on their website.

More Safe Ways TO CARE FOR YOUR FEET

Here’s what I’m learning from all this, and what I hope you’re taking away from this too. What’s most important isn’t an occasional pedicure. What’s most important is overall foot health and consistent home care. Caring for our feet each and every day means we won’t even need sharp instruments to shave off piles of dead skin. With proper care like this, you can get a routine diabetic pedicure, look and feel great, and keep your risk very low.

So how do we do this? The American Diabetes Association provides some super practical tips on caring for our feet on a daily basis.

  • Wash your feet thoroughly every day
  • Dry them thoroughly, and don’t forget to dry between your toes
  • Moisturize your feet, but avoid moisturizing between your toes 
  • Keep your toenails trim, and use an emery board to file down sharp edges
  • Check your feet for sores, cuts, blisters, corns, or redness daily. Let your doctor know if you find any of these. 
  • Wear moisture-wicking socks 
  • Before putting your shoes on, check for sharp objects (i.e. small rocks) 
  • Wear shoes that fit well and don’t rub your feet

Winter months can be particularly drying on our skin because of the cold weather. So it’s a good choice to make sure you are moisturizing then in particular.

Also, consider cutting your toenails after bathing or doing foot baths, as they are softer then. And you can use a pumice stone to smooth the skin on your heels while they’re still soft.

A great way to moisturize is at night while you’re sleeping. Just put on your moisturizer as usual and wear socks to bed.

What is a diabetic pedicure?

Minimize the Risk by Managing Diabetes Well

One of the best ways you can minimize the risk of a negative pedicure experience is to manage diabetes well. That includes things like:

  • Keep blood sugar in range as much as possible
  • Exercise regularly to encourage blood flow
  • Work with your diabetes care team or health care provider on what is best for you

Can I do a Diabetic Pedicure at Home?

You can certainly do a diabetic pedicure at home! With a few simple tools, some diabetic-safe products, mild soap, warm water, and a towel, you’re all set. This way you control the cleanliness of the location and tools. And you also can make sure you’re not using a sharp instrument or scrubbing too hard. Who knows — it may be the best service you’ve had in a while!

The Good News about Pedicures

If you take good care of your feet (and your diabetes!), you can prevent a load of potential complications. You can absolutely have your spa treatments when done safely. And you can have healthy and happy feet!

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NOTE: I am not a doctor or medical professional. Nothing here should be taken as professional medical advice. Please seek out guidance from your healthcare provider for any questions you have. And please alert your doctor right away if you believe you have an infection or injury from a pedicure.

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Kaycee - Devotions on Diabetes

HEY - I'M KAYCEE!

Welcome to my Devotions on Diabetes website! Thanks for stopping by. I've lived with diabetes for 30+ years. And I'm here to provide you with a heaping helping of encouragement while you deal with diabetes and navigate this chronic illness with God by your side.

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