Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Let's talk about feet

I hate to bring up an ugly topic on a beauty blog, but I want to talk about feet. Especially heels. I can't speak for the rest of you, but many years of too-small shoes (vanity), ballet, field hockey, lacrosse, tennis, squash, cycling, fencing, archery, soccer, and swim team adversely affected my foot aesthetics. My toes are cute, but any cuteness ends at the first knuckle. 

Compounding this gnarly visage, my heels crack in winter. More truthfully, my heels look rather beastly year round, especially now that I no longer live on the ocean, where walking barefoot on sand is the best natural exfoliation. In fact, the backs of my heels look so repugnant, I would not be surprised to see horns pop out.

Not mine (I swear!), but not outside the realm of possibility (source)

Cracking and callus formation is due entirely to my distaste for socks. Socks are practical; they protect shoes from perspiration, prevent blisters, and hold moisture against the skin. And while some of you may rejoice at another opportunity to accessorize creatively with fun hosiery, socks make my feet feel like they are being strangled. I refuse to wear them until the snow on the ground is higher than the top of my shoe—and even then I would be more likely to slip my naked feet into a pair of Bean Boots with shearling insoles. The only socks I wear are wool ragg socks, but I wear them as slippers, inside the house, and they are extremely old and soft and stretched out so they hardly count.

Sock shunning causes my heels dry very quickly, even after I slather on goopy unguents, like Eucerin or A&D Ointment or Badger Balm. A few years back, I intended to attack the cracks with brute force, so  after an ocean of drugstore experiments failed, I visited a podiatrist who prescribed Amlactin lotion (12% lactic acid). After using two full bottles, however, I saw no difference on my feet, though the lotion smoothed out my upper arms nicely.

So it was with low expectations that I ordered Glytone Ultra Heel and Elbow Cream ($48, 1.7 oz) from


The cream is rich and thick, but it absorbed very quickly and left a silky, non-tacky finish, so I assumed it would perform like any other cream/lotion I had tried. Not so. I was pleasantly surprised when, the morning after its first use, Glytone had gone to work immediately, gobbling up little bits of skin like PAC-MAN eating the sad jellyfish ghost.


Glytone contains large concentrations (almost 30%) of pure glycolic acid, also known as AHA. The formula is so effective at sloughing off built-up skin, I was able to rub much of that skin off with my fingertips after the initial application. Not so much after the first week, as the new, smooth skin began to emerge from under layers of its cracked crust.

Glytone products used to be available by prescription only, but we can now buy them over the counter.

How exfoliation works

When deciding between an AHA or BHA-based product for exfoliation, you might keep in mind this tip:
  • AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) works above the skin, on its surface.
  • BHA (beta hydroxy acid) works below the skin's surface.
AHA is available in any skincare product that contain glycolic, citric, lactic, or malic acid. AHAs penetrate the uppermost layers of skin and unglue the dead skin cells, improving texture and appearance and allowing treatments, serums, and creams to be better absorbed. AHAs can help fade discoloration from sun damage (photoaging), and it is rumored that AHA increases collagen production. DO NOT, however, use acids at the same time you apply collagen treatments, like Baltic Collagen, where the acids make the collagen inert. AHAs are best used on sun-damaged skin where breakouts are not as big an issue.

BHA comes in one form only: salicylic acid, which deeply penetrates below the skin's surface, where it exfoliates and sweeps away dead skin and accumulated sebum inside pores. BHA can less irritating than AHA and is ideally suited for oily skins, especially acne-prone skin with whiteheads or blackheads. BHA can also ameliorate surface redness because it is made from acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), which has anti-inflammatory properties.

Even though the two acid types have different methods of exfoliation, I find that both have a place in my medicine cabinet—especially given the prevalence of skin-suffocating silicones, which are nearly impossible to avoid in nearly ALL products, and which cause milia on me. An excellent two-in-one product is Peter Thomas Roth AHA/BHA Acne Clearing Gel ($45, 2oz.), which contains maximum strength BHA (2%) without a prescription and 10% AHA. I love the way it keeps my pores uncongested.

How to use it

Because my heels were in such rough shape, I applied Glytone a few times a week and used a foot file in the shower every morning to buff away unglued skin cells. When my heels stopped causing sparks on the bed linens, I began using Glytone on my elbows, and, occasionally, on my knees. The instructions recommend rinsing it off, but I don't bother. If I feel discomfort, I apply a very thin layer of any basic moisturizer, which immediately cools the tingle.

Do rinse Glytone off your fingers. Even if the stinging doesn't bother you, it's not worth the risk of transferring residue to eyes the mucous membranes of the nose, and I discovered that the cream got under my nails, even when I was careful to wipe my fingertips clean on a paper towel. 

If you are not a sock hater like me, you could apply Glytone (or your acid of choice) at night and put on a pair of thin, cotton socks to seal in the benefits (e.g., don't let the cream rub off on other things your feet come in contact with). If you experience too much stinging, just rinse it off.

Because this little jar contains such high concentrations of pure glycolic acid, think long and hard about using it on your face. It is not meant for the face. That said, after I had slowly built up a tolerance to AHA, starting at 5% and progressing slowly to 10%, 15%,  and 20%, I decided to try Glytone very sparingly on my nose to see if it made my pores look smaller. It did. I also began applying a tiny dot directly onto a skin tag on the right side of my neck, and the tag eventually disappeared.

What to expect

My heels experienced the most impressive benefits in the first couple weeks, when my skin there was in its worst shape. Because sugar/fruit/milk acids exfoliate only dead skin cells and leave healthy skin alone, it is completely normal to expect diminishing returns. Using more cream or using it more often will only cause irritation. Using it less often means you can stretch out this pricey cream, but do know that continued use of AHA/BHA (or tretinoin) products is necessary to maintain results.

If you are a sock hater like me, you'll find yourself still using it a couple times a week, and 1x weekly seems to be a good maintenance dose for my feet. Over time, my jar of Glytone cream turned bright yellow. I suspect this was caused by a combination of bathroom heat/steam and oxidation; it has had no negative effect on the product's effectiveness.

My heels feel so nice now, I actually like rubbing them against my calves, just to remind myself how soft they have become.

Bottom line: I have been using this product for several years, and I've found it to be worth every penny. Highly recommended for those of us with horny-toad feet who have tried just about everything else.

And, finally, in defense of possums, even if their feet are hideous:

So there! source