A Pedicure History

Nailpro, May, 2022

Since the 1990s, the pedicure service has been either a consistently growing service in the beauty industry or near to it—a recently developed phenomenon. Foot care has always been performed, even in cave man times, it has been said. But, it usually was merely a nail shortening; through history, it remained a “private” service, not one performed in salons.

Even in the get-my-hair-done-every-week beauty era, before the 1970s, most salons did not have pedicures available. Then nails became a licensed specialty, and pedicures were included in the scope of practice. They were offered by some salons, though rarely appointed as technicians did not want to perform them—“Yuck. Feet.”—and were usually not ergonomically comfortable to perform. Also, the nail salons of the ’70s and ’80s were mostly “acrylic salons” and did few natural services due to the low prices clients expected to pay. For these reasons, my first salon, opened in 1980, had a pedicure chair (not a spa chair), which was mostly used as a coat rack.

Times Changed

But then, pedicures exploded. The growth of pedicures coincided with the beginning of the spa age, significantly starting in 1990. Day spas saw them as relaxation services they could add to their menus. Serious demand began with the innovation of spa pedicure chairs in 1985 by European Touch of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the development of the first pedicure-focused product line that year by CND of Vista, California. Spas heavily invested in the chairs and the new specialty product.

Nail salons noted the “new” service for their menus but were slower to invest in the fancy whirlpool chairs at the level spas did due to their expense. Then the technicians noted the higher tickets the spas were charging for the service, and suddenly, nail salons were investing in the luxurious chairs and raising the prices of pedicures. Pedicures soon became a lifestyle service for women. Many now get their pedicures more often than their haircut.

Until the 1990s, schools did not train pedicures, saying, “It is just a manicure on the feet.” Now that is known to be untrue. The protocol may be similar, but the feet require special care for many clients. In the early 2000s, they were added to curriculums due to the demands from salons and spas. Toes were no longer in hiding; they were swiftly being groomed to be seen by others with color and even with nail art on display.

In 1999, a technician in a spa asked me, “Can I specialize in pedicures? I want to be called a pedicurist.” This technician saw the opportunity for a higher income. In the 2020s, this specialty is sought-after, with many pedicure-only spas, salons and studios. “Foot Spa” is becoming a common salon name for pedicure salons, though many still offer manicures on the menu.

More Reasons for High Demand

Aside from the development of the spa chair and pedicure product line in the 1990s, pedicure demand flourished because Medicare stopped paying for nail trimming/grooming and callus reduction unless the client was in active treatment for a chronic illness. Almost immediately, insurance companies followed suit in cutting these benefits. This meant many of their routine foot care patients now had to pay for their toenail trimmings and callus reduction. These patients began thinking, “Um, if I have to pay so much for an ugly toenail trimming, why not be pampered also?” So, they turned to spas and nail salons for their routine services—trimming their nails, reducing their calluses and having lotion put on their feet—and routine foot care expanded into a pedicure. This resulted in a higher demand for pedicure chairs in salons and spas.

Clients’ Overall Health and Pedicures

According to “Prevalence of Multiple Chronic Conditions Among U.S. Adults, 2018“ by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov), more than half (51.8%) of adults surveyed had at least one of 10 selected diagnosed chronic conditions. What does this mean about the clients sitting in your chair? Do the math. Do you know which clients have a chronic illness? Do you know how you need to change your service to meet their needs and keep them safe?

With this comes the need for personal services to take special care of these people to prevent damage during their service. Pedicures are included in the potentially damaging services for the chronically ill—and those who may not know they are ill.

Now, specialty nail technicians—pedicurists—want to become more educated on how to work safely with all their clients. It is known now that the health of the overall person is not only reflected in the feet, but also their condition can be affected negatively by personal services such as pedicures on their feet. Courses have been designed especially for these caring nail technicians to educate them in higher levels of care.

The ‘New’ Pedicure

One of the recent developments in pedicure protocols is the soakless or “waterless” pedicure. The clients do not soak their feet in a whirlpool or water tub. Aside from removing the potential for occurrence of waterborne infections that can cause serious illness—even death—this pedicure is a pampering, restoring wellness pedicure. Other techniques are utilized to soften the skin on the feet, preventing the dryness that soaking can cause, especially for the chronically ill. For example, diabetics who are insulin dependent should never be soaked—their feet are prone to dryness, which can lead to callusing, which can lead to ulcers, which can lead to amputations. The Rule of 15 quoted in the medical foot specialties applies: “15% of diabetics will have slow or nonhealing ulcers; 15% of those will have amputations; 15% of them will have additional amputations; 15% of those will die within five years of the first amputation.”*

The soakless/waterless pedicure has been adopted by many trained pedicurists as the only pedicure they offer, with almost all who are working in or accepting referrals from podiatry offices going soakless. In doing so, it may affect the chair chosen for the service, though they can be performed on a spa pedicure chair or even a podiatry chair also. Water is not needed at the chair in any form, except for possibly warm, wet towels. Many pedicurists choose a high-end lounger-type (which may heat, vibrate and massage the client) for their pedicure chair. This chair lays the client back as (s)he wishes, while bringing the feet up to a level where the pedicurist does not have to bend over at all—(s)he sits with knees under the platform of the lifted feet while working. The ergonomics are optimal.

These developments have brought routine foot care from just cutting the nails at home by a family member, or a fast clip by a podiatrist, to a pampering, luxurious professional service that many people dream of when they are tired, depressed or disgusted. Or it can be an absolute necessity due to a person’s health. Pedicures are now a highly specialized service that should be performed by highly trained specialists.

About the Author

Janet McCormick (@nailcareacademy) has been a nail technician for 40 years, author, co-founder of Nailcare Academy and a Nailpro 2022 advisory board member. She is a CIDESCO Diplomat, holds a master’s degree in allied health management, has written over 400 articles on nail and skin care topics since 1978 and is co-author of the Nailcare Academy Programs.


*American Diabetes Association. Consensus development conference on diabetic foot wound care. 7-8 April 1999, Boston, Mass Adv Wound Care. 1999, 12: 353-361. | Pecoraro RE, Reiber GE, Burgess EM. Pathways to diabetic limb amputation: Basis for prevention. Diabetes Care. 1990, 13: 513-521

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