I had read the rumors. New York’s fashion circles couldn’t stop whispering about a pedicure peel from Japan so powerful it frees dead skin in “sheets.” I had Google Image searched. Pink, smooth skin emerging from a veritable cocoon of calluses in photo after photo. And I took to Reddit, where my curiosity was stoked into full-flame obsession.
We all have our beauty niches. One girl has a shelf full of clay masks, another is all about nail polish. I am a clean freak. My temple is the shower; my practice, bathing. Whereas some turn to meditation, I find solace in soap and steam. BabyFoot makes a heady claim: to not just cleanse the skin, but to slough away every last dead cell of it. I knew I would follow this road wherever it led.
Comprised of 17 plant extracts including AHA-rich fruit enzymes, Baby Foot breaks down desmosomes, the proteins that bind skin cells together, to release dead skin cells from healthy ones. The Tokyo-based product has been around since 1997, but has catapulted to cult sensation just this past year. Suddenly, the metal file at the salon seemed as ineffectual as a Popsicle stick. I ordered two boxes.
How many times did I refresh the FedEx page updating its delivery status? Innumerable. When I finally got the product home, I drew a bath, arranged the toiletries on my counter, lit a candle. I wanted my first time to be perfect. Evangelists say the key to Baby Foot is the presoak: You want to submerge your feet in warm water for at least 10 minutes to allow for maximum penetration. I opted for 20. After a pat-dry, I eased on the cool, gel-filled plastic booties and secured them with insulating socks.
Now, I must make a confession. The second box of Baby Foot proved too strong a temptation. Emboldened by a single post I’d found on a Minnesota salon’s website, I put the second pair of Baby Foot booties on my hands. Yes, my hands. I sat immobile for one and a half hours, pawing rudely at the remote.
Once freed from their jelly sleeves, my appendages appeared not at all okay. The shriveled, pruned appearance familiar from summertime swims was magnified fourfold by the chemical exfoliants. My damp skin felt rubbery and cool. But by morning, the whole affair was forgotten. The skin on my feet and hands felt fine, but taut. Life was normal for five days.
Then suddenly, as my boyfriend and I were perusing the shelves at McNally Jackson bookstore, a crown of dead skin emerged intact from my fingertip. I stared dumbfounded at the translucent ring in my palm. Nota bene: No matter how open-minded your significant other might be, Baby Foot is not what anyone could call an aphrodisiac. The days that followed were as horrifying to my boyfriend as they were epiphanic to me.
But was it safe? We’ve all used exfoliants—a salt scrub or a salicylic acid lotion—but Baby Foot’s next-level reputation raises the question of whether shedding to this degree comes with risks. I asked dermatologist Ellen Marmur, M.D.—former vice chair of cosmetic and dermatological surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center—for her take. “This idea—using alpha hydroxy acids plus moisturizers—is already in many pharmaceutical products for psoriasis and dry skin,” said Marmur, who adds that safe concentrations of AHA top out at 10 percent. At 10.2 percent AHA, Baby Foot is over the line, but very close to it. Marmur recommends being cautious: “The instructions say to rinse it off after one hour, but I’d add that if it stings, you should rinse right away. Or if you know you have sensitive skin and sensitive feet, try a test spot between your toes, rinse after one hour, and wait two days before a total treatment.”
My expectations were high, and Baby Foot delivered on all its promises. After a week, every inch of my feet and hands had shed, revealing supple skin beneath. The only downside of my new baby feet was their sensitivity. Without a protective callus layer, shoes that previously were comfortable suddenly provoked blisters. Still, accommodations could be made: I stocked up on Band-Aids and wore my thickest socks. It was worth it.
It’s been a month since my Baby Foot episode, and while winter is still here and I can molt in the privacy of my winter boots, I may just go for round two. I know that by sandal season, I’ll be glad I did.
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