The Ugly Truth About Nail Salons


(Original story published on Wednesday October 16th, 2014 on

At the end of a long work week, there’s nothing quite like rewarding yourself with a relaxing manicure and pedicure.

But, while we’re at the salons texting and trying to work the massage chair, we tend to overlook our surroundings and the health and safety hazards sprinkled around us. What’s supposed to be a luxurious treat to help you unwind, can easily result in the unimaginable: horrible infections and nasty skin diseases.

To make sure you stay safe, we’re highlighting everything you need to know before booking your next appointment, and if you’re still wary, a few ways you can DIY.

1. There’s always a risk.
Podiatrist Dr. Robert Spalding, and author of Death by Pedicure, claims that “75 percent of salons in the United States are not following their own state protocols for disinfections.” What does this mean? Nail salons aren’t properly mixing their disinfectant solutions, fail to soak their tools properly, and are using inadequate disinfecting products to reduce costs.

2. Even the smallest cut can lead to an infection.
Whether you enter the salon with cuts, scratches, bites, or hangnails, or you’ve just been cut at the salon with a callus-cutting tool, nail clippers, file, or cuticle pusher; these cuts are “portals of entry” and are susceptible to infective organisms.
Ever had your nails filed and your fingertips feel momentarily hot? You’ve had the surface layer of your skin broken, leaving it open for infections.

3. Some disinfecting solutions are not effective.
Many manicurists and pedicurists don’t know if their instruments have been properly sterilized or not. This is because not all disinfectant solutions are powerful enough to kill all viruses. But, there’s one way to ensure all tools are properly sanitized…

4. An autoclave is needed for sterilization.
An autoclave is a machine used to sterilize equipment using high pressure and steam, killing 100 per cent of all infective organisms. To find out if your salon is using one, ask the manager, and look for colour change pouches the instruments are prepared in.

5. Not all tools can be sanitized.
There’s always a catch! Only metal tools can be put in the autoclave, so it is essential for tools like nail buffers and foam toe separators to be replaced after each use to prevent the spread of bacteria.

6. Foot baths are breeding grounds for bacteria.
Foot baths are often not cleaned properly, and hold bacteria that could cause boils and rashes. The worst part? It’s difficult to bust salons who fail to disinfect them properly, since boils can take up to four months after a pedicure to appear.

7. Calluses don’t have to be removed.
Only have your calluses removed if they become thick and uncomfortable. Furthermore, only ever choose scrubbing or a chemical remover, instead of allowing your pedicurist to cut or shave the skin off your feet. Remember, cutting is cutting and can therefore lead you susceptible to infections.

8. You get what you pay for.
It’s common for salons to fill expensive lotion bottles with a cheap, generic option so they can charge you more for the procedure, claiming the use of prestige products. They’ll also skimp on the amount of soap they use in the foot bath, or the lotion they use on your hands and feet. Furthermore, some salons dilute nail polish once it gets old and clumpy, which makes the formula chip faster, bringing you back to the salon.

9. UV nail lamps can be dangerous.
Gel manicures are a great way to maintain a flawless polish, and make it last longer and without chipping. However, The Skin Cancer Foundation claims the UV-emitting nail lamps used to seal the polish may increase the risk of skin cancer.  So, you may want to stick to regular manicures to be safe.

10. Don’t shave before getting a pedicure.
Freshly shaved legs means you have open pores, and probably a few tiny nicks you can’t see, which makes you more prone to infections. Learn to rock the stubble before an appointment, ladies!

11. Ask for proof of sanitation.
It’s totally fine to ask for proof of proper sanitation before you get a manicure or pedicure. Don’t be afraid to ask for new tools (nail file looking used?), replace questionable tools (didn’t that cuticle cutter just fall on the ground?) and request your pedicurist to clean the footbath’s filter-screen, to ensure old debris doesn’t contaminate the clean water. Still a little wary? Consider showing up to your appointment early so you can see yourself that your tub has been properly cleaned.

12. Bring your own tools and sterilize them yourself after each use.
Have difficulty trusting salons with sterilizing their instruments? Pick up a great travel kit ($24) and bring your own! But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to clean them yourself. After each use, scrub each tool with soap and water, then soak for ten minutes in a disinfectant solution like rubbing alcohol.

13. Sometimes, you should cancel your appointment.
Are you showing any signs of an infection? This could be anything including pain, itching and redness around the nailbed. If so, it’s easy to pick up a bacterial or fungus infection. Such infections can spread from the tip of the finger to the entire hand, requiring a course of antibiotics. Furthermore, going to a salon with open wounds puts others in danger, as they can pick something up from you. Save everyone the trouble, and cancel the appointment.

14. Invest in your own set of tools and DIY.
If keeping yourself safe at the salon seems daunting, invest in a full kit and DIY. Go for a 10-piece manicure set ($25). It houses all your mani and pedi essentials, including a nail file, tweezers, cuticle pusher, nail clipper, scissors, and angled cuticle clipper.

15. Get a Pedi Sonic.
Frequent the nail salon? It may make more sense to invest in a pedi sonic, so you can safely give yourself the foot care you need and desire. We’re loving Clairisonic’s Pedi Sonic Foot Transformation System ($230), which gently sloughs dry, rough foot skin to reveal beautifully smooth heels, toes and soles.

16. For a cheaper option, go with a foot buffer.
For a most cost-effective option for an at-home pedi, try Diamancel’s Diamond Foot Buffer #11 ($49). It removes dead, dry, rough skin with ease for smooth, sleek tooties.

17. Pick up a quick-drying top coat.
The secret for getting your DIY manis and pedis to last? A fabulous top coat, like the 45 Second Top Coat ($16) from Nails Inc. Just as the name reveals, this super glossy polish leaves nails dry in only 45 seconds. Plus, they’re fully chip-resistant.

18. Get a great foot scrub for at-home care.
Revitalize sore, tired, and dry feet with an invigorating foot scrub, like Lush’s Stepping Stone Foot Scrub ($5). Just wet your feet, scrub away the rough skin and you’ll reveal soft, moisturized and fresh-smelling feet.

19. Fix those cuticles.
Get your fingers on your very own cuticle-repair system, with Butter London’s Cuticle Miracle Kit ($38). Banish snagged, dry cuticles with this eliminator and oil that breaks down and softens dead skin for easy removal.

20. Treat yourself to your own colour collection.
Finally, if you’re doing your own manicures and pedicures, you deserve your very own collection of polishes in every colour imaginable, right? Go for Ciaté’s Mini Mani Manor ($72). It’s a set of high-pigmented polishes in an array of shades and textures–24, to be exact.

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