Looking around your nail salon for health hazards isn’t something you want to think about when you’re enjoying a small but meaningful moment of peace and pampering. Unfortunately, there are some common nail salon health hazards that could end up ruining your bliss, and they’re worth at least some of your attention. Applying a few pre-visit strategies and knowing some signs to look for once you are at the nail salon can help protect you from picking up a fungal or bacterial infection or other health hazards. Then it’s back to bliss you go.
Before You Go
Pack Your Own Tools: Skin infections are a common nail salon health hazard, and they often are due to improperly cleaned tools. If you’re headed to a salon you’ve never been to, or you’d rather be safe than sorry, bring your own set including a nail file, clippers, a cuticle stick and a callus file. If you use them for each visit, be sure to keep your tools properly maintained: Use an alcohol swab on the clippers, cuticle stick and callus file (allow them to dry completely before storing), and replace the nail file after a few uses or when it begins to lose its grittiness.
Skip Shaving: Even the most careful shave can leave you with nicks or a case of razor burn. These tiny cuts and skin irritations can open the door to infection, redness and itchiness. If you’re planning on a pedicure, skip shaving for 24 hours leading up to your appointment to allow nicks and razor burn time to heal. Don’t worry about showing your stubble—it’s a small price to pay for a healthy salon experience…and your pedicurist has surely seen it before.
Consider Removing Polish at Home: Nail damage is another common nail salon health hazard. Many salons use acetone-based removers, which make quick work of removing even dark, glittery or old nail polish, but can leave your nails extremely dry. Your nails are made of a protein called keratin, and when they are stripped of their natural oils—as acetone can do—that keratin becomes dehydrated and weak. The result? Nails that more easily split and break.
Remove polish at home with a non-acetone based remover and a cotton ball. And if you find that even gentler formulas leave your nails brittle, consider talking to your doctor about taking a biotin supplement; research has shown that this supplement can strengthen weak and easily-cracked nails.
At the Salon
Look for Licenses: Technician error can account for certain nail salon health hazards, so it’s important that you visit establishments where every employee has been properly trained. Before you pick your perfect shade of polish, check to see if both the salon itself and all of its technicians are licensed, and that those licenses are current. Requirements vary by state, but generally a license must be posted near the front door of the salon, so if you don’t see the information you are looking for, be sure to ask before you begin your treatment.
Check Sterilization Techniques: Even if you come prepared with your own supplies, it’s still a good idea to check the sterilization techniques being used at your nail salon (it’s a good gauge of their dedication to your safety). Tools, including nail clippers, metal callus files and cuticle sticks should be sanitized in steam autoclave (a type of heat sterilization machine) for a minimum of 10 minutes after each use to properly kill the bacteria and viruses that can cause athlete’s foot, warts and more serious infections like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a type of antibiotic-resistant staph infection. Alternatively, tools may be soaked in medical-grade disinfectant for at least 20 minutes after each use (if you aren’t sure what disinfectant is being used, don’t hesitate to ask).
Anything that cannot be properly sanitized after each use—this includes nail files, toe separators and rubber or paper flip flops—should be tossed. And don’t forget your technician: She should be keeping her hands and work station clean and sanitized at all times, particularly after finishing one client and starting on another.
Pay Attention to How Tubs Are Cleaned: One of the most pleasant parts of going to the nail salon is taking a break from the stresses of daily life, and if you choose to have a pedicure, a foot soak is an integral part of that process. Unfortunately, when it comes to nail salon health hazards, whirlpool baths are one of the biggest offenders. If the filters are not cleaned after each service, whirlpool baths can be a breeding ground for yeast, fungus and fortuitum, a microbacterium that causes boils on the legs. If you frequent a salon that uses whirlpool tubs, be sure that they are scrubbed clean with soap and a brush after each use, filled with water and disinfectant, and then drained and allowed to dry. An even safer bet is to choose a salon with individual footbaths (bowls, portable basins and the like) that can be cleaned more easily.
Skip the Cuticle Cutting: Although your technician may offer to cut your cuticles during a manicure or pedicure, it’s better to opt out. Your cuticle acts as a seal between your finger nail and the skin beneath it (what’s called your nail bed) and also protects the base of your nail, where your keratin is softer. Cutting or pushing your cuticles back exposes this area, leaving you more vulnerable to infections such as paronychia, which can cause the skin around your cuticles to become painful and inflamed.