Nailing it at the Nail Salon

Do you have that friend who refuses to get a mani/pedi with you after lunch because she's scared of nail salons? Are you that friend? Maybe you're paranoid or a bit of germaphobe, but most likely it's because you've heard one of those pedicure-gone-wrong horror stories. Trust me, I've been in the cosmetology industry for over 23 years and I've heard some doozie's, from an infection that lasted ten years to a woman who had to throw away all her shoes because of a foot fungus.

Sadly, these are not just old wives tales. If not properly cleaned, warm and wet environments like nail salons can be home to bacteria, viruses, fungus, and other microorganisms, also known as pathogens. They can be transmitted through footbaths and manicure tools if the equipment is not properly cleaned and can cause a range of ailments from fungal infections to staff infections to the flu and hepatitis.

It's difficult to determine how common these infections are, but I believe that the safest assumption is that there's always a chance of exposure. That said, a visit to the nail salon is one of life's simple pleasures, and I'm not here to scare you out of enjoying that. So go get that afternoon pedi, but know there are things you can do to make sure you're in the cleanest, safest environment possible. Below are some tips on how to be proactive in getting the best and hygienic mani/pedi possible:

  • Arrive 15 minutes early. Allow yourself some time to look around the salon pre-pedi (even if you've been there before). It may seem obvious, but if the salon looks professional, it's a good indication that it values cleanliness and is more likely to sanitize the equipment. If the trash cans are overflowing or dust is collecting on shelves, you do not want to trust the footbaths and nail clippers.
  • Look for a license. The salon's license of certification along with each of the nail technician's should be posted near the entrance where everyone can see them.
  • See how they sterilize their tools. They should use liquid disinfectant. Make sure the solution is not cloudy, if so, it needs to be changed.
  • Check out the pedicure area. The employees should be cleaning and disinfecting the footbaths after each use with hot, soapy water. After which, they should be filled with water again, as well as disinfectant. The spa should run for at least 10 minutes before being emptied out and wiped clean.
  • Take a look at the manicure area. Make sure your manicurist is cleaning and disinfecting after each client. Towels should be replaced, used cotton balls, disposable nail files, and wooden tools should all be thrown out.
  • Be extra careful if you're getting acrylic nails or fillings. Make sure the manicurist washes her hands before getting started and applies an antibacterial spray or gel to yours. She should be using properly sterilized tools, even nail files should be disinfected or discarded after each use.
  • Don't get your cuticles cut. Your cuticles provide protection against infection in your nail bed, so have your manicurist gently push them back or just leave them be. Also, if the skin tears it will increase your risk of infection.
  • Bring your own manicure kit. Salons will let you bring your own tools (files, manicure brushes, and buffers) and some will even let you leave them in a bag with your name on it until your next appointment. Make sure they are cleaned and sterilized before and after each use, and that the bag is closed airtight.

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