Getting your nails done is so relaxing, we bet you’ve never thought too much about the germ potential your favorite salon might pose—so here’s a reality check. Even the nicest salons can practice less-than-stellar cleanliness procedures. And if you have the misfortune of visiting a dirty salon, it can be way too easy to catch something nasty.
Love a good pedi? According to the Centers for Disease Control, a whopping 97 percent of nail salon footbaths tested in one study contained the bacteria M. fortuitum, an icky bug that can cause scarring boils on the skin. Fungal infections are another potential problem.
“Fungal infections may infect the skin, like with athletes foot, or the nails, which can be extremely difficult to get rid of,” said Dr. Rebecca Pruthi, a board certified podiatric physician and surgeon practicing in New York City. “You can also contract viruses from nail salons—the result of which may be plantar warts, caused by HPV. Plantar warts are not only unsightly, but they can become very painful and can spread to other parts of the body.”
What’s more, recent media reports have uncovered serious salon infection issues. One customer in Galveston, Texas, got a pedicure-related toe infection so severe her nail needed to be surgically removed. A D.C. man suffered a life-threatening bacterial infection from a nail instrument puncture, and nearly lost a leg. Even scarier, the potential, while considered really rare, is there for blood-borne diseases to be spread.
“Cutting into skin could cause secretions such as blood to get on nail instruments, and if another customer is exposed to that blood—if they get a cut in their skin, for example, and contaminated blood enters that cut—this is a potential route of transmission for diseases, theoretically including hepatitis or HIV,” Dr. Aaron E. Glatt,an infectious disease specialist and spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told SELF.
Are you now so freaked out you’re swearing off salon visits forever? No need to neglect your nails—but you should be proactive about making sure you’re safe. Read on to learn smart steps you can easily take to make sure your next nail appointment will be hygienic and healthy.
1. First, do a visual cleanliness check.
Does the salon look spotless? It should. Clean surfaces are indicative of good hygiene practices overall. So no grime on countertops, no streaky mirrors, not even the tiniest stray nail clipping should be visible. Head into the ladies’ room and make sure it looks nice and sanitary. You should also check the dates on magazine stacks, to see how often customer reading material gets tossed. Old magazines are a mecca for germs if lots of fingers are flipping through their pages.
2. Watch the technicians.
Are they wearing neat clothing? If your manicurist is wearing a stained uniform or apron, she’s sending a pretty clear message that professional cleanliness is not a priority for her, which should make you wonder how clean and safe her tools and equipment are. (While you’re peeping, check out her storage tray—the tools inside should look totally clean, too.) Are the technicians very focused on their work, or do they look lax when it comes to thoroughly cleaning or properly filing a customer’s nails? An alert technician is much less likely to do unhygienic work, or accidentally cut a customer mid-manicure.
3. Look out for safety signs.
Optimally, there should be posted safety rules regarding salon procedures that can be clearly seen by the salon staff.
4. Get the lowdown on those footbaths.
“Speak to the supervisor at the salon regarding what type of foot baths are used,” Pruthi said. “A lot of micro organisms are lingering within the jets of the whirlpool. Pipe-free whirlpools are better.”
You can sometimes see the difference between pipe or pipe-free whirlpools yourself, too: A pipe-free system has what looks like a fan or propeller attached to it, while a whirlpool with pipes is surrounded by, well, pipes. Also, “find a facility that uses a liner in their foot bath and make sure that liner is changed in between each client,” Pruthi urged.
5. Make sure tools are disposable—and disposed of.
In addition to the bubbly kind, there are non-whirlpool plastic foot basins that can easily be tossed between customers. Some salons still reuse things like metal files, so you want to request single-use files and buffers. It’s totally OK to ask the technician to open a package in front of you to get your single-use tool out, too. Watch to make sure all disposable tools are thrown away immediately. (If they got tossed after they were used on you, chances are they got tossed after the person before you, as well.)
6. Ask about an autoclave.
When it comes to making sure non-disposable tools are safe, “disinfection and sterilization are not the same,” explained Pruthi. An autoclave sterilization device, which is now available in better nail salons, is guaranteed to kill any bug and is much more effective than disinfecting solution (like that blue stuff you might see at a hair salon or barber shop), which doesn’t kill all bacterial spores.
You don’t have to rely on your manicurist’s hygiene scruples to stay safe. Here are a few ways you can take your mani into your own hands:
Bring your own instruments.
This eliminates any danger of getting an infection from a prior customer. Another good practice: “Clean your own instruments at home beforehand, too. You can wipe down something like a pair of scissors with alcohol, or wash them with soap and water,” says Glatt. Even if you’re the only person using them, cleaning your instruments before using them takes away any risk from surface dirt they make have picked up in a drawer or on a table.
Don’t shave your legs for 24 hours before your treatment.
Even if you don’t think you nicked yourself, microscopic cuts can be easy entry points for infection.
Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns.
If something doesn’t look or feel right, voice your opinion to the salon owner—not only will you be protecting yourself, but other customers as well. Then find another salon. There are many great facilities out there that put their customers’ health first.
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