As an American living in Japan for more than six months, I still act like a kid in a candy shop when I find myself in the cosmetics aisles of drug and department stores. Though Japanese consumers rank #2 after the U.S. for beauty spending, in my experience the range of transformative products available to cosmetics customers in Japan is far more extensive — and often bizarre. In my small-town drugstore, I can find creams that will give your face a V-shape, collagen-boosting energy drinks, skin whiteners and at least 50 varieties of false eyelashes.
But the latest trend in Japanese beauty right now is…babies. Not actually having one (we've all heard about the low birth rate and aging population), but becoming more like one. Japanese consumers are really into baby-fying themselves right now: faces of angelic infants advertising products that promise baby skin, baby pores and baby lips beam and coo from the shelves.
I'm all for the concept of returning to baby-soft skin, but I have to say I was initially put off by the product I discovered while searching for a solution to my calluses: Baby Foot. Admittedly, the name is unappetizing, but it was the graphic shots of sheets of skin peeling off some poor person's heels in the before and after photos that really gave me pause. (Google it if you're interested.) Though the glowing, pink soles they displayed as the intended result were appealing, getting there looked painful and well, gross. But winter had gotten the best of my dry, cracked tootsies and for some reason I hadn't had the foresight to bring my beloved PedEgg with me to Japan. Plus, at about $16, Baby Foot was much cheaper than a pedicure so I decided to give it a whirl.
Here's how it works (as I found out through the English website's cheesy testimonial video): you slip your feet into a pair of plastic, gel-filled booties, secure them with tape, and leave them on for an hour. After the time's up, you wash off the gel (made from "fruit acid and 17 natural extracts") and go about your business while it works its magic. Then, two to seven days later, your feet miraculously begin to shed their skin like a cobra, revealing beautiful, smooth, never-been-tread-on baby feet!
Baby Foot lists the natural extracts on their website—including grapefruit, camel grass, and a somewhat foreboding-sounding herb called bladderwrack—but it wasn't difficult to find out that the gel is mostly just alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA, which is a pretty common skin-rejuvenation compound and the main ingredient in chemical peels. So, hoping that my feet wouldn't burn or fall off completely, I went home, taped the booties to my feet and caught up on an episode of Downton Abbey while wiggling my toes delightfully in the gel. It felt like nothing—no burning or stinging—and smelled like a lime ricki. Walking with your feet basically plastic-wrapped is not easy or recommended, as I discovered when I got up to get a snack. But believe me, I thoroughly enjoyed having an excuse to sit on my butt for an hour. 60 minutes later, I rinsed the gel off in the shower and waited. And waited. The reviews I'd read promised almost instant peeling, but my feet were the same old rough hooves for a full four days, and I was pretty sure that Baby Foot was a scam. Fruit acid—bah!
I have notoriously gross feet, though. I was always a barefoot kid, and once a Guatemalan pedicurist spent over 60 minutes scraping the skin off the bottoms of my feet and then wiped her brow, declaring that I should thank her because she'd helped me lose 5 pounds of body weight in an hour. So I think it just took Baby Foot a little longer than average to penetrate, because when I stepped into the shower on the fifth day, I felt a strange tingling sensation in my soles, like when you take your feet from cold to hot really fast. The hot water felt scorching, as if my feet had never touched heat before…and that's because they were newborn, baby feet! I looked down to find disgusting amounts of ragged skin peeling off my feet, exposing fresh, pink flesh. With a little dedicated exfoliation, I had removed the dead skin and just stood wiggling my toes delightedly like The Little Mermaid admiring her new feet.
Baby Foot is probably not for the easily grossed out, but if you're like me and are tired of having to tuck your hobbit-like feet out of sight but don't want to pay for monthly pedicures, its a great, cheap—and oddly enjoyable—option. And lucky for you, Baby Foot is available online outside of Japan. Just make sure you start the process before sandal season to avoid having to go out in public looking like the Walking Dead from the ankle down.