Why Experts Prefer "Dry" Pedicures For Healthy Nails

Just (don’t) add water.

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Why experts always recommend a dry pedicure.
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As of late, dermatologists and nail pros have come to prefer a new-and-improved take on the traditional pedicure — it’s all about the dry pedicure, which doesn’t require soaking one’s feet in water. “Calluses are still removed and the feet and lower legs are exfoliated, massaged, and moisturized, but there is no wet soak,” Dr. Dana Stern, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in nail health, tells Bustle.

As for why experts suggest skipping the soak? For one, water can be harmful to skin and nails, even impacting nail polish longevity, adds celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippmann. “I’m a firm believer in the no-soak pedi because water is very damaging and drying to nails, and can lead to polish chipping sooner,” Lippmann explains.

Ready to take the (lack of a) plunge? Read on for everything to know about dry pedicures, as well as how to try the waterless technique at home.

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What Is A Dry Pedicure?

The only real difference between a “dry” and traditional pedicure is the practice of soaking one’s feet in water. “While warm water feels nice, soaking is not essential to a results-oriented pedicure,” Silva Nahabedian, natural nail care specialist and director of education for Dazzle Dry, tells Bustle. Instead, dry or waterless pedicures begin by cleansing the feet with either steamed towels or an antiseptic spray.

Once feet are sanitized, the pedicure proceeds as usual: The cuticles are softened and groomed, nails are trimmed, filed, and buffed, and calluses are sloughed off with a foot file — so it really is just a regular pedicure sans excess liquid. In lieu of the soak, LeChat Nails educator Syreeta Aaron notes that nail technicians may use other products to treat the skin, such as a sugar scrub, salt soak, cream-based mask, or a massage lotion. For calluses, she says some use a remover that has the consistency of jelly. “It’s placed on the bottom of your foot, and sometimes around the toenails to remove heavy buildup of skin,” she tells Bustle. And this adequately softens the skin without requiring water.

Benefits Of Dry Pedicures

According to Patricia Garcia, lead nail technician at Julien Farel Restore Salon & Spa, waterless pedicures are becoming significantly more sought after in the past few years for multiple reasons. Her take? People love that they use less water and are thus more eco-friendly, plus they cut down on the treatment time. “Dry pedicures also make it easier for nail technicians to address problem areas on the feet [when dry] as opposed to when wet,” she explains (removing calluses included). Soaking feet can also cause cuticles to expand, which can in turn lead to excess removal, over-cutting, and/or nipping the skin, she adds.

Lippmann echoes this, telling Bustle that dry pedicures are the only type she offers in her salon. “It’s important to go waterless because the nail plate is porous and therefore absorbs water while soaking, leading it to expand,” she explains. “If you apply polish to an expanded nail, it will not adhere well and is likely to chip when the nail dries out and shrinks back.” Stern echoes this, noting that she recommends dry pedicures to those seeking to preserve their nail health and their polish. “The nail is 1,000 times more absorptive of water than the skin, so once the nail is no longer soaking, the nails will then contract and the polish will too,” she says.

Another perk of the waterless method is that it eliminates the risk of using communal pedicure tubs. “Dry pedicures pose a much lower risk for infection, because when basins and pedicure foot baths are not properly cleaned, bacteria, fungi, and viruses can colonize in the water source,” says Lippmann. “It’s especially high risk when there are jets, and there have been cases of severe bacterial infections reported from pedicure baths.” Yuck.

How To DIY A Dry Pedicure

1. Cleanse & Shape

Before you begin, be sure to completely remove any and all leftover nail polish. Shape and buff each nail as usual, then wrap your feet in a steamed towel for 3 to 5 minutes, says Nahabedian.

2. Treat Cuticles

Next, apply cuticle oil. Push your cuticles back with a pusher or stick, Nahabedian continues, then wipe each foot with a steamed towel after cuticle removal to ensure they stay clean.

3. Buff & File

Apply a callus remover to the bottoms of your feet and toes, buffing calluses and dead skin away with a foot file, says Lippmann.

4. Exfoliate & Hydrate

Apply scrub to legs and feet to exfoliate. Once finished (and all product is rinsed off), apply a liberal amount of foot cream to the soles of your feet for rehydration, Lippmann continues.

5. Prep, Paint, & Maintain

Before you apply polish, use a manicure brush, soap, and water to remove traces of oil and lotion from the nails, patting them dry once done. This will ensure polish is applied directly to the dry nail for the best adhesion. Now it’s time to start painting your nails. And as for maintenance? Stern suggests using a nail treatment system once weekly to ensure your nails stay strong and healthy — just in time for sandal season.

Studies referenced:

Baraldi, A., Jones, S. A., Guesné, S., Traynor, M. J., McAuley, W. J., Brown, M. B., & Murdan, S. (2015). Human nail plate modifications induced by onychomycosis: implications for topical therapy. Pharmaceutical research, 32(5), 1626–1633.

de Berker, D. A., André, J., & Baran, R. (2007). Nail biology and nail science. International journal of cosmetic science, 29(4), 241–275.

Egawa, M., Ozaki, Y., & Takahashi, M. (2006). In vivo measurement of water content of the fingernail and its seasonal change. Skin research and technology : official journal of International Society for Bioengineering and the Skin (ISBS) [and] International Society for Digital Imaging of Skin (ISDIS) [and] International Society for Skin Imaging (ISSI), 12(2), 126–132.

Sniezek, P. J., Graham, B. S., Busch, H. B., Lederman, E. R., Lim, M. L., Poggemyer, K., Kao, A., Mizrahi, M., Washabaugh, G., Yakrus, M., & Winthrop, K. (2003). Rapidly growing mycobacterial infections after pedicures. Archives of dermatology, 139(5), 629–634.

Winthrop, K. L., Abrams, M., Yakrus, M., Schwartz, I., Ely, J., Gillies, D., & Vugia, D. J. (2002). An outbreak of mycobacterial furunculosis associated with footbaths at a nail salon. The New England journal of medicine, 346(18), 1366–1371.


Dr. Dana Stern, M.D., board-certified dermatologist who specializes in nail health

Deborah Lippmann, celebrity manicurist

Silva Nahabedian, natural nail care specialist and director of education for Dazzle Dry

Syreeta Aaron, educator at LeChat Nails

Patricia Garcia, lead nail technician at Julien Farel Restore Salon & Spa

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