Here are the main problems we need to solve if we want to improve the appearance of our legs:
- Dry flaky skin
- Very pale legs
- Spider veins
- Varicose veins
- Thick ankles
I’ll tell you what’s possible and what I’ve tried. Scroll right down to see suggested products for each treatment.
How to make your legs look their best in summer
Even if you have no major problems with your legs you still need to take daily action to preserve and improve the skin on your legs. The older you get the thinner and drier your skin becomes. This leads to itchiness and skin flaking. It makes your skin look tired as light does not reflect off your skin so easily and you lose that healthy glow the young have.
Here’s what I do:
Getting rid of dry skin on older legs
Around the age of 50 I was horrified one day to see flakes of white skin, like dandruff, in my black tights when I removed them at the end of the day. So I started then and there to put into practice a weekly exfoliation.
An exfoliator is anything that removes the very top layer of skin and helps your legs look smoother. There are lots of products available inexpensively. I use a variety of these. They are gritty pastes and creams that literally sandpaper your skin to smoothness. Brushes with bristles of varying degrees of stiffness and loofahs are useful too. Even using a rough towel to vigorously rub your legs dry when you exit the shower can help.
Improving the skin on mature legs
You will have noticed that the skin all over your body is drier these days. But a good moisturizer can remedy this.
Here’s what I do:
While my skin is still warm after my shower I massage in a body lotion from head to foot paying special attention to my legs. I’ve been doing this every day for twenty or thirty years without fail. A weekly routine of moisturizing simply isn’t enough.
Making pale legs look better
My skin is very pale and I don’t like to roast in the sun early in the season as that is dangerous and ages your skin very fast.
I don’t find pale legs look so bad as long as they are reasonably slim. But if you want to go without tights early in the summer then you’ll probably want to use a tanning lotion.
Here’s what I do:
I usually apply body lotion before I apply the tanning product. In the past I have sometimes mixed the two together before applying. That’s because any areas of drier skin will tan darker, such as ankles and knees.
I smooth the tanning product all over my legs paying attention to get it as evenly spread as possible. Then I use something to give a quick wipe to the front and back of my knees, my ankles, my heels and across my toes to remove a little of the product from those drier areas. (I use kitchen roll paper but I’m sure there’s a classier answer out there somewhere!) Then I spend a few minutes working my hands up the length of my legs from foot to thigh to even the coverage out again and to give myself a bit of a massage too.
Finally I wash and rewash my hands and use a soft nail brush to work soap around every crevice both across my palms, between my fingers and around my nails.
I always use tanning products very sparingly so that the effect builds up slowly over the week. Some years I just use one of those ‘summer’ body lotions that have a slight tanning effect. It’s slow but I quite like the ‘healthy glow’ look it gives skin and it’s much less likely to show dark streaks if you’ve not worked it in evenly all over.
Tanning lotions interact with the skin to produce the tan but I find they still leave marks on towels the following day so I keep an old towel just for my legs whenever I use these products.
The very best thing you can do to improve the look and health of your legs
Legs need exercise. Lots of it. What they don’t need is sitting and standing still for long periods of time. Yet that’s what we give them once we’re out of childhood. And, ladies, we’re well out of childhood aren’t we!
Specific exercises can be found on Pinterest and all over the internet so I won’t cover those here. I find the main trouble with exercises is remembering to actually do them.
So as an absolute minimum I have several simple stretches I do every morning before I get dressed. For my legs specifically I do heel lifts while I brush my teeth then I do a few forward and sideways lunges to feel the muscles in the back and inside of my legs stretching.
My ‘best thing for legs’ advice is to walk, walk, walk.
This regular gentle exercise is exactly what legs were designed for. Imagine the miles and miles our early female ancestors covered looking for berries and nuts and roots just to stay alive and keep their children alive too.
Did they ever sit cross-legged on a rock? I doubt it. They would have squatted on the ground with a baby at their breast as they sorted through the day’s foraging. Did they ever curl up on a mossy bank with a drink and stare straight ahead at one single point for hours on end after sundown? I doubt it. They likely walked till they dropped from exhaustion then started pounding roots for dinner.
Unless we are in training for a marathon, none of us can copy this walking-based life-style. But even so every step we do helps to keep our legs in shape and our energy levels up.
Here’s what I do:
Get used to wearing a fitness tracking band
I use my fitness band to count my steps. This helps to push me to walk just a bit further to reach my personal goal of 10,000 steps each day. If the weather’s bad I don’t reach my goal so I try to make up the shortfall over the following days or even weeks.
When I first starting wearing the fitness band I was shocked how little I walked. The average for a person just going about their normal day, using the car, sitting on the couch and so on is 5000 steps. My day as a retired woman who liked to blog and read books and watch TV was about 3000. I just hadn’t noticed how downsizing my living accommodation, not having to walk from the bus or car park each day, and not running around continuously managing my business which was spread across three separate sites had changed my activity levels.
The second best thing you can do for your legs
Lose weight. Your legs take the strain of any extra pounds you are lugging around so little wonder if they develop a poor valve system that lets blood run downwards more happily than pumping it back up. This leads to unsightly spider and varicose veins. See below for what I did about these.
Women’s fat is laid down differently from men’s. Sad but true. Here we are wanting to wear knee-length frocks and shorts in the summer and hating our legs. Most guys still cover up their legs all day, every day. What a waste when most of them have great-looking pins!
Our excess weight tends to be laid down as cellulite around thighs and sometimes also across rear and tummy. Cellulite is fat storage with thicker bands of fat between flabbier areas. That’s why cellulite on thighs doesn’t look anything like those curvy models in clothing ads.
There is no scientific evidence that cellulite can be ‘cured’ but there are things to make it less obvious and stop it getting worse.
I’ve found my cellulite looks so much less bad when I’m a good weight. The structure of your thigh’s fatty areas might be the same but when there is a lot less fat anyway, this makes cellulite look better.
Look closely at your diet
More vegetables, more fibre, less sugar are the usual recommendations. Basically you want to lose weight (if necessary) and ensure your system is working well which includes less factory-processed ingredients as well as giving up smoking . I eat like this all the time but I still have cellulite!
Massaging the fatty areas is aid to help but you have to do it every day – forever. There are various inexpensive rollers and knobbly massagers available but I often just use my knuckles to work on my thighs after my shower every morning. I push hard down with my knuckles and draw them up my legs right to the top. Then do it again a few times. Does it work? I’ve no idea because who knows if my cellulite would be a lot worse if I didn’t do it? And that’s the problem with treatments for problems like cellulite – because they don’t completely solve the problem it’s difficult to know whether the extra work is paying dividends.
Body lotions with caffeine or other plant extracts
French women love these. Ones with retinol in them will thicken your skin which is said to improve the look of cellulite. But expect to use these creams daily forever.
I’m going to give DIY massage with suction cups a go this year. You use small plastic cups to create a vacuum and draw the flesh up thus massaging it quite deeply and stimulating blood flow. Based on Chinese therapies it is claimed to drain impurities from your cellulite areas and start new cell growth. These items are very inexpensive so worth a try. Use with massage oil.
FDA approved treatments for cellulite
I’ve never tried them. If you’re interested then look out for names such as Cellfina where the surgeon helps to make your fat deposits lie more smoothly by cutting the thicker bands by injection. Or Cellulaze where a laser reduces fat cells as well as working on the tougher fat bands.
Unlike interventions for unsightly veins none of these treatments promises to rid you of the problem for ever.
So what else did I do to make my legs look better?
Let me tell you about my own personal journey with varicose vains.
Professional treatment for varicose and spider veins
I first noticed unsightly veins when I was 18.
I was a student and took a short-term job in a mail sorting office for the Christmas post (in those days when many families sent hundreds of cards in the two weeks before Christmas.) The job required me to stand and ‘throw up’ for four hours a day followed by ‘the round’ for four hours. (Throwing up being the technical term for throwing letters into pigeonholes each with the street number, the round being the shouldering of a very heavy mailbag and walking several streets delivering the letters door to door.)
By the end of two weeks my legs felt tired and looked rather swollen with a small vein showing on my inside calf.
Throughout my six years at university I took a job every vacation and every one seemed to involve standing all day. As I was young, healthy and in need of cash I didn’t pay too much attention to work conditions.
But slowly my legs got more tired, more swollen and more thread veins (spider veins) and larger veins appeared.
After having my daughter I decided to do something about them. I had the problem veins in my right leg cut and tied off – as this was the only treatment available in the mid eighties.
The swelling went away.
But within ten years it was back, and worse. My legs itched and felt tired and heavy all day, every day.
But it was not until 2018 that I finally decided to look into modern treatments. I was looking for a less invasive treatment, with a better record of keeping vein problems at bay and in a highly professional medical environment where the team specialized in varicose vein treatment
I found the Vein Centre www.veincentre.com (this is not an affiliate link and I include the web address so you can take a look at what one service does in the UK. They have lots of useful information on their site.)
I selected the Oxford centre as it was nearest to where my daughter lived and she could drive me to and from the appointments – it is advised that you do not drive yourself home or fly for four weeks after treatment.
The treatment rooms were clean, friendly and in a new private hospital. I had an ultrasound scan and the results were explained to me.
It was proposed that I had EVLA – Endovenous Laser Ablation. This involved be lying down and having local anaesthetic injected into my leg. Guided by the ultrasound scan a thin wire was passed into the vein and the laser was fired up then withdrawn – ‘cooking’ the vein as it went. This took about two minutes and was slightly disconcerting but not painful.
Then I was shown how to correctly put on a surgical stocking. I was advised to walk around for fifteen minutes or so before sitting still for the journey back. I was offered three day’s worth of pain killers but only took them for 24 hours. And that was it.
I had a follow-up appointment about 6 or 8 weeks later when I was given extra treatment for the smaller spider veins on my legs. This was called microsclerotherapy and involved tiny injections of a detergent chemical. The Centre explained that although this treatment was sometimes offered at beauty centres the staff there would not be using the same chemical as the best one was prescription only. They might be just using sugar or salt.
Wearing the stocking was annoying and very warm but I decided to keep it on for two weeks just to be sure. When I took it off there was bruising and staining on my skin. But as time went by this disappeared completely. My legs felt lighter and stronger, no more aches and pains. And they slimmed too. The veins were no longer visible.
2018 was the first time I had felt unembarrassed about wearing shorts, shorter sun frocks and sunbathing in company since my twenties. I was ecstatic!
The doctor had suggested I could have a further session to get rid of all the smaller spider veins but they weren’t very noticeable and I decided not to bother.
Three years later I can see those untreated spider veins are more noticeable now around my ankles so I will book another appointment once the Covid travel restrictions between France and the UK are lifted.
I only wish I had got laser treatment years earlier. Having ugly legs certainly robbed me of a lot of confidence in summer time.
This is just my personal story. You must talk to your doctor about your own specific circumstances of course.
Living with heavy legs and swollen ankles
But it’s worth asking your doctor about swollen ankles. There could have a medical condition that needs attention. So if it’s not just on a hot day that your feet and ankles get swollen make an appointment to talk to a professional.
Here’s what I did:
When my legs felt aching and tired I used to wear support tights. You can buy ones that look good. They compress your legs which helps with blood flow. They were useful for days at work where I might need to stand a lot but once I retired I discarded them. I rarely stand for long periods now, I have time to put my feet up whenever I need to and I prefer the freedom of pants and longer skirts these days.
How to deal with legs that bruise easily
Have you ever found a bruise on your leg and wondered when you got it? I find that the older I get the easier I bruise. Just knocking into the edge of the bed when I’m making it can leave a mark that takes a while to disappear.
Women, especially, are prone to easy bruising as they age. That’s because the blood cells break more easily as they have become more fragile with age. The skin on your legs may also be quite a bit thinner than it was in your twenties so there’s less protection for those blood vessels.
Apart from waiting for the bruise to disappear there’s only one answer: camouflage.
You can buy useful tubes of leg make-up to apply to bruises that will get you through bare-leg days when you’re on show. I’m thinking garden parties, barbecues and weddings when it’s too warm to wear tights.
Or you can camouflage the natural way by hiding your legs under a long skirt or linen trousers however warm the day is. Fortunately both of these are in fashion so nobody will wonder why you’re so covered up.
You might look at my post on Boho Style for ideas.
Style rules for legs
- Wear toeless pantyhose (tights) with summer frocks if you can’t go bare-legged
- Wear opaque tights in a dark color with dresses in colder weather
- Tone your tights with your outfit so people don’t focus on your legs
- Wear cotton-rich pantyhose if you overheat easily
- Dark tights can even be worn with sneakers these days
- Never, ever, wear knee socks – they restrict the circulation just under the knee which is bad news if you have vein issues. Even worse, you think your skirt covers the tops of these socks/short stockings. That’s the way it works in the mirror. But when you sit down, bend over or cross your legs you may be offering a glimpse of your pale upper leg. This is not a good look!!
- For smart days or occasions wear open-toed shoes with no ankle straps and if possible a crossover of fabric low on the foot towards the toe. This style will lengthen your leg and make it look slimmer.
- Don’t wear slim or stiletto heels as they will make large legs look ridiculous.
- Wear block heels, wedge heels, or platform soles to give you height and make your legs look longer and slimmer.
- Kitten heels are also possible unless your ankles are very thick.
- If you need to wear high heels all day for an occasion read this post on How to Wear Heels All Day and Survive.
I’ll never have very slim legs but then my grandfather and mother both had very heavy legs and suffered badly with varicose veins. But we have to make the best of what we inherit.
Suggested products you might want to trial
Massagers for Cellulite
If you’ve found this article useful you might also like these ones: