Dirt Alert! Five Signs of an Unsanitary Nail Salon

   By divinecaroline  Apr 25, 2011

It’s spring, and things that have been in hiding all winter long are starting to peek out and make themselves seen. The cherry blossoms are reappearing in our nation’s capital, leaves are sprouting on trees, and insects and animals are starting to show their faces once more. People are putting away their heavy winter boots and coats in favor of airy garments and strappy sandals, meaning that our hands and feet are making their yearly debut, too. After we’ve shoved them into galoshes and gloves for months, we’re ready to step out with freshly pampered and polished finger- and toenails.

But as enjoyable as it is to have the occasional mani-pedi, nail salons can harbor some gnarly germs and bacteria. If customers aren’t careful, they could walk out with a lot more than just a fresh coat of California Coral. Before you turn your fingers and toes over to a nail technician, watch out for these signs of a not-so-sanitary salon.

No Licenses on Display
According to the International Pedicure Association (IPA), all states except Connecticut require nail technicians to be licensed, and most states require that those licenses be prominently displayed for customers. The licenses show that the technicians are adequately trained to perform the services they offer, and that they know proper hygiene procedures. If the salon’s license or the technicians’ licenses aren’t displayed or available for you to see, there’s no telling what kind of experience and/or education they have.

The Salon Feels Dirty
Check around for a general air of cleanliness. Is the floor swept, or are there piles of dirt and dust bunnies? Are the bathrooms clean and tidy, or messy and out of soap? Are dirty linens and other debris kept out of sight, or are they lying around customer areas? Is there adequate ventilation, or is the space stuffy and full of noxious fumes? How the premises are maintained can indicate a lot about the salon’s hygiene standards. It’s okay to be suspicious of any salon where the staff is eating lunch in the customer area, where spills or messes are allowed to fester, or where cleanliness just doesn’t seem like a priority. If it feels dirty, it probably is.

No Between-Customer Scrub-down
As you wait for your appointment, watch how the salon cleans up after previous customers. Water should be drained from the pedicure footbaths and hand bowls, which should be disinfected before being reused. Linens should be changed, and the whole area (including the chair) should be treated with disinfectant. The technician herself should wash her hands before and after working on a client, and it’s a good idea for customers to wash their hands before a manicure, too. Wearing masks and gloves isn’t a legal requirement, but it’s a good sign if you see salon staff taking these steps to prevent bacteria from spreading. If you witness salon staff reusing water, not taking the time to sanitize the area, or handling one customer’s feet or hands directly after handling another’s, don’t let them handle your own.

Reusing Implements
Everything that touches your hands or feet should be either sterilized or brand-new. Salons should at least soak their implements in a germicidal solution, and it’s even better if they use an autoclave, an appliance that destroys germs with heat. Drill bits, some files, pumice stones, scissors, and clippers should never be used on two clients in a row; they should either be dipped in a tuberculocidal solution for ten minutes or heated in an autoclave between uses. Since they can’t be disinfected completely, porous implements, such as emery boards, orange sticks, and toe separators, should be discarded after use. Using them on more than one client risks transmitting bacteria. The IPA encourages customers to ask questions about the sanitation procedures at salons, and to find out the specific rules and regulations in their state.

It’s a good sign if a salon allows customers to purchase and store their own implements. Many salons do, and then set those tools aside to be used only on you. If your salon doesn’t offer this service, consider buying your own set of tools at a beauty-supply store and bringing them with you to your appointments. Just remember to wipe them with hydrogen peroxide between uses.

Cutting, Clipping, Slicing, and Shaving
Many states, such as California, Texas, and Ohio, do not permit the use of credo blades or callus cutters for slicing calluses on feet. Even though some customers do enjoy the service, it’s often illegal, and if a salon is breaking one law, there’s a good chance that it’s breaking others. Cutting cuticles is often illegal, too, and even if it’s lawful, it’s still not a good idea. The cuticles naturally protect the nail bed from bacteria and dirt, and clipping them makes infection more likely. At the very least, if your salon offers these services and you consent to them, make sure that the technician uses a fresh razor blade every time she shaves calluses, and uses properly disinfected clippers on your cuticles.

If you have any open wounds, bug bites, rashes, or existing infections on your hands or feet, wait until they’re healed before you get a manicure or a pedicure. These conditions increase the likelihood not only of bacteria entering your skin, but also of your shedding bacteria that’s transmissible to others. The IPA also recommends that women avoid shaving their legs directly before a pedicure, since shaving could cause small nicks in your skin that could let in bacteria.

Manicures and pedicures are fun treats and well-deserved pampering that most women would be loath to give up. The good news is that it’s relatively rare to catch blood-borne infections, such as HIV and hepatitis, from a nail salon. The bad news is that there are still plenty of other fungal and bacterial infections?like yeast and staph?to be spread, not to mention common cold and flu bugs. If you experience a rash, redness, oozing, wounds, or any other sign that you could have an infection, see a podiatrist or your general physician right away, and if you believe your usual nail salon is practicing subpar hygiene, run?don’t walk?your perfectly manicured feet to another establishment.

Make a Comment

kenekts by kenekts | Jersey City, NJ
May 17, 2011

I'm so happy that I recently found a newly opened nail salon less than a mile away from my home! It's clean, pleasant, and inexpensive! All proper certificates are on display as well as sanitizing tools. The owner is a sweet young woman who takes time to chat and has a great sense of humor. Even knows when I'm not in the mood to chat, so she's quite :)

basilandcatnip by basilandcatnip | GARLAND, TX
May 13, 2011

Just watched a celebrity hair sylist demo some hairstyles on the Wendy Williams show. He should know better not to open bobby pins with his teeth then use it in the models hair, its against Cosmetology/Health Board rules. ...and he's doing it on national tv!

momaw02 by momaw02 | belle, WV
May 11, 2011

Thanks for the info I dont get pedicures, or manicures but my daughter and her girls do I do my own but you know when you have children money burns a hole in their pocket and momaw dont do as good as the salon according to them LOL

basilandcatnip by basilandcatnip | GARLAND, TX
May 11, 2011

On an episode of Beverly Hill Fabulous the client asked the hairdresser to wash her hands after she had touched some used hair extensions, drama flew... the client was asked to leave the salon, for just looking out for her personal health. This is a very good article. Another thing that happens is salons will buy products with the same name but they are the less expensive industrial grade vs the product by the same name that is medical grade and more costly. Most salons want to give you the best possible safe service. But it's always best to look out for yourself, like not shaving legs that day before a pedicure, purchase your own bottle of polish to be used only on you etc. Again excellent article.

LovelyCourt by LovelyCourt | BALTIMORE, MD
May 04, 2011

i agree with msfriendly.

msfriendly by msfriendly | MONROE, WI
Apr 27, 2011

This is gross! That's why I do my own nails.

glamourgirl78 by glamourgirl78 | bakersfield, CA
Apr 27, 2011

I've gotten a fungal infection before and it was not pretty I showed the owner and she tried to say it was my fault so i called the state board and the nail salon ended up getting $500 fines for being unsanitary

reenee by reenee | TEHACHAPI, CA
Apr 25, 2011

thanks for the heads up !!!!

blueskys by blueskys | Brick, NJ
Apr 25, 2011

I walked out of a salon once, I was soaking and waiting for my turn the woman finished the pedicure of her client and immediately was going to start mine. She did not stop to was her hands. After I sat there and watched her use her bare hands to exfoliate her past client. I ask her to wash her hands she said it's okay...I said no it not okay...Clearly the woman she was just touching with her bare hands had open sore on her legs!! Disgusting I promptly excused myself and never went back there again..She even had the nerve to try and charge me on the way out for sitting there soaking..Blech!! Needless to say I paint my own toes these days..(:

LifebyCynthia by LifebyCynthia | SAN DIEGO, CA
Apr 25, 2011

Eww...Gross. Thank you for sharing this. I do love a great mani-pedi experience but I am NOT up for bacterial infections. Gratefully I have never experienced the horror stories you mentioned! I was visualizing the "rash, redness, oozing, wounds" and thankful that there weren't any photos as I am eating lunch right now. We warn our kids about HIV - but I've never heard of a young lady being warned not to get her nails done because she could contract HIV. Maybe I'll just do self manicure & pedicures from now on...