’Tis the season of sandals—and there is nothing like a fresh pedicure. Toes, no matter how knobby or crooked, are suddenly elevated: cuticles are nonexistent, misshapen nails fade into the ether, and, of course, there’s always a double layer of look-at-me red lacquer. But for those who find themselves facing the first truly warm day of summer with a less-than-stellar pedicure and who still want to let their toes wriggle free? There is a way to rehab that hungover, chipped nail polish—on every other toe—and liberate your shrouded feet from their socks in 20 minutes or less.
The first decision to be made: Are you willing to go without polish? As in, stripping down those phalanges and letting them be their naked selves. It’s a contentious subject. After all, a glossy pedicure is the epitome of self-care—but a full polish detox does have its benefits. “Years of never not wearing red on my toes wrecked my nails, so much so that I imposed a polish ban this past winter while my feet were securely tucked away from public viewing,” says Vogue Beauty Editor Zoe Ruffner, who has since turned the temporary polish ban into a long-term habit. Ruffner has a point: A no-frills, very cool Kate Moss has long stepped out with little or no polish as a chic alternative to a high-maintenance hue.
If you are comfortable with baring all, the trick to going “bald digit” is to meticulously care for your now fully exposed nails themselves. According to nail artist Madeline Poole—who notes that her own “toes have been through the ringer” this past winter—zeroing in on discoloration is key. “Most people I know have similar situations where their nails are yellowing and flaking just from wearing nail polish forever,” she says. After removing any lingering lacquer, “you can get a buffer and gently buff that down.” Another way to remedy unsightly nail stains? Poole recommends whipping up a homemade recipe similar to a tooth-whitening mix. “You can do baking soda and lemon juice and toothpaste,” she says. “It is like a little concoction of that stuff, and you can kind of physically toothbrush your toes.”
If skipping polish is simply an impossibility, Poole notes that wearers can cheat a bit with a layer of clear or slightly tinted polish. “Jin Soon has a sheer white that is almost clear but it has a little color called Dew,” says Poole. Ruffner agrees, adding that when she does paint her toes these days, she opts for Essie’s Spin the Bottle. The semi-sheer color is so light, she says, “when it chips you can hardly tell.” Best of all? “It goes with any and every summer sandal.”