You take your health seriously. Your nail salon should too.
A nail salon is a wonderful place to pamper yourself when the services are done well. Unfortunately, not all nail salons are adequately cleaned or sanitized. Sometimes their nail technicians are not well trained.
Salons can be a breeding ground for mold, bacteria and fungal infections. And most won’t turn away paying costumers, so people with nail infections or foot fungus get pedicures next to you – when they should be referred to a doctor.
Robert Spalding, a Tennessee podiatrist and author of “Death by Pedicure,” says the most alarming health risk at a nail salon is injury that leads to infection. “An estimated one million unsuspecting clients walk out of their chosen salon with infections – bacterial, viral and fungal.” And no matter which salon you go to, there is always a risk of infection.
In his research, Dr. Spalding found that “75% of salons in the United States are not following their own state protocols for disinfections.”
Before you visit the nail salon:
Don’t shave just before you have your nails done. You get small cuts on your legs that you can't see. And even though you can't see blood, those tiny cuts (think a hangnail, paper cut, bug bite, split cuticle) are a great way for infections to get in. Any open wound puts you at risk for getting a skin or nail infection.
12 Things to Look for in a Nail Salon:
1. Arrive about 15 minutes early for your appointment. Use this time to watch what is done in the salon. Does the salon look clean? Is there a current state license on display?
2. Are the nail technicians’ licenses displayed? Are they up to date?
3. Nail technicians should wear gloves and wash their hands between clients. Each station should be cleaned between clients.
4. Nail salons should have ventilation systems to ensure the health and safety of their workers and clients. Good salons will avoid using products with toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate – better known as the toxic trio. If the salon has a heavy chemical smell, you should probably leave. People with asthma AND people who are particularly sensitive to irritants should avoid poorly ventilated salons.
5. Cuticle oil should be dropped – not brushed – onto cuticles. Bacteria and fungus can live in brushes, so they should be used on one client only.
6. Bring your own polish. Again, bacteria can live in brushes, so they shouldn’t be shared. Be sure to read our post, What does nail polish do to nails – and you?
7. If you use whirlpool foot baths at a nail salon, you put yourself at risk for a bacterial or fungal infection. It is impossible to clean in the space behind the jets. Instead ask for a foot soak in a plastic basin. The basins should be disinfected for 10 minutes with bleach between each client. Alternatively, ask for a dry pedicure.
8. Pumices, toe separators, emery boards, and buffing blocks are all great places for mold, bacteria and fungi to live. The only way to effectively kill them is to use an autoclave. This type of sterilization can only be done on metal tools. It is considered the gold standard because it is the only means of disease prevention that can be verified and guaranteed at any time.
As a consumer, you cannot tell if tools were disinfected between customers. To ensure instruments were autoclaved, ask the salon manager how tools are disinfected, then look for the “color change pouches that the instruments are prepared in,” says Dr. Spalding.
Currently, Texas, New York, and Iowa are the only states to require autoclave sterilization of nail instruments. Because so few states require autoclave sterilization, you may have trouble finding a salon that sterilizes properly. Salons that don't autoclave should use disinfectant solutions (like Barbicide), or UV light sterilizer boxes - but none of them kill ALL viruses. If your salon doesn't use an autoclave, bring your own tools then sanitize them at home:
*Clean your tools using hot soapy water. Boil, dry, then store your nail tools in a clean, dry place.
9. Cleaning under the nail with any sharp object can cause the nail to separate from the nail bed. Orange Sticks usually have a sharp tip at one end (used for cleaning under the nail) and a blunt tip on the other end (for pushing back the cuticle). In a nail salon, these tools should be used one time only.
10. Foot razors are illegal in many states. Salon workers are not medically trained to deal with the cuts can occur. If these blades are reused they can transmit serious infections like Hepatitis and HIV from client to client. Instead, salons should use stainless steel files that can be autoclave disinfected between customers. Additionally, you might try a home heel cream.
11. Nail technicians should get annual, state mandated, continuing education to improve understanding of medical problems. They need to know how and when to refer their customers to medical professionals. Medinail.com is recommended by Dr. Spalding. They provide advanced training for nail techs and a list of their graduates.
12. Safe Salon Rating has created the highest level of sanitation protocol for nail salons worldwide, protecting consumers from potential nail salon infections. You can search salons on their website.
13. Don’t shave just before you have your nails done. You get small cuts on your legs that you can't see. And even though you can't see blood, those tiny cuts (think a hangnail, paper cut, bug bite, split cuticle) are a great way for infections to get in. Any open wound puts you at risk for getting a skin or nail infection.
ONE LAST WORD OF ADVICE: Never ignore any condition that appears after a nail service at a salon. If it concerns you, see a dermatologist or podiatrist. Your health is important!
Thanks for reading!
Amy Takken, RN
Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery.
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The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some – like melanoma – can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!