Walk-Ins Welcome: The Untold Story of The Mani Pedi

by Danielle Taubman on March 5, 2013

Getting manicures and pedicures are fun.  You get to choose a nail color called “My Paprika is Hotter Than Yours” or “Vampsterdam”, soak your hands and feet in steamy hot water, and get your finger and toe nails groomed and pampered.  But, unfortunately for us—and for nail salon owners—we aren’t only responsible for choosing a nail color.  We are also responsible for choosing a salon that won’t put us at risk.  Many of us have heard rumors about the dangers of nail salon manicures, but we probably associate these risks with salons that are visibly dirty and unrefined.  However, what’s the real story?  Which salons should we avoid and what practices should we look out for, both good and bad?

Of course, you can always decide to give yourself the spa treatment at home, but it’s not quite as fun as getting it done at a shop.

I don’t frequent the nail salon on a regular basis, but when I have an important event or I’m heading on a vacation, I usually make time for a manicure.  I drive all of about a mile to the nearest salon that boasts “Walk-Ins Welcome”, sign my name up, and get manicured on the spot.

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Even just a few years ago, getting a weekly or monthly manicure was only affordable for a select few. The salons pulled out all the stops and charged the prices to match.  But in the last few years, nail salons that offer $10 manicures have popped up all over the country.  The manicures at these places may not be as impressive or involved as the more pricey places, but they still do the trick. And people who go are still likely to feel like princesses for at least a few hours.

In the States, the manicure-pedicure has undoubtedly become an inexpensive indulgence for the masses.

I used to go to any random salon I heard about.  But as more research about the health risks of getting manicures at nail salons has emerged, I’ve become choosier in my salon selections.

Salon owners and employees can make quite a few unhealthy missteps that the average salon patron is likely to miss.

To be a responsible consumer, it’s important to know the difference between what makes one nail salon–regardless of the price–safe, and another nail salon potentially dangerous.  You also shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions about the ways the salon maintains its standards. Even for those of you who are not even remotely interested in nails and nail polish, having an awareness of the potential hazards associated with nail salon manicures can help you spot the dangers associated with other cosmetic activities (like Brazilian waxing and manscaping).

Nail Salons Gone Wrong

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the health risks associated with professional manicures and pedicures include viral infections such as HIV, hepatitis, and warts, and bacterial and fungal infections.

Even though it seems like you and the nail technician are the only people involved in your manicure and pedicure, if the tools are not disinfected properly, you may get infected with lingering bacteria from the previous client.  Infected pedicure footbaths and manicure tools cause the most infections in nail salons and here’s why:

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Manicure and pedicure tools can get infected with bacteria, fungi, and viruses.  Because of this, nail technicians should only use tools that have been cleaned and disinfected with alcohol or bleach before working with the next client.  Instruments should soak in a bath of disinfectant for 10 to 15 minutes in order to be completely disinfected. If the bottle of cleaning solution contains words like germicide, disinfectant or concentrated, it’s probably an effective product.  Although, asking to see the bottle is not a foolproof method since salons can easily refill the bottle with whatever solution they want.  Also, Toronto Public Health notes that UV light sterilizers don’t do the job. I have definitely seen these sterilizers in action and they certainly look like they’re doing something.  But after doing my research, I no longer trust in its abilities.

Tools such as nail files and buffers should not be reused because they cannot be adequately cleaned, although few salons seem to follow this.  Research shows that between 95 and 100 percent of mani-pedi tools are re-used even if it’s not the manufacturers intention.

Whenever I use a public shower (including showers in hotel rooms) I wear sandals and do what I can to avoid touching the floors.  Somehow though, I trust that the footbaths or footspas in salons are completely safe and fungus free.  I should perhaps reconsider this position. Footbaths are the perfect warm, wet environment for mycobacterium, warts, and toenail fungus to thrive. To keep it safe, the nail technician should scrub the walls of the tub and use disinfectant for 10 minutes between clients.  Also, even though they make a pedicure that much more luxurious, footbaths with whirlpool jets can contain the most bacteria; materials like nail clippings, dead skin, and hair from different customers are more likely to become trapped in the jets and drain.  In 2000, there was actually an outbreak of Mycobacterium fortuitum infections in northern California.

With the potential for future situations like the one in California, research suggests that even stricter infection control protocols may be needed in order to better prevent the transmission of disease and bacteria.

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Quick (Finger)tips to Reduce Your Risk of Infection by Manicure

1. If you believe a salon is not appropriately following safety and health regulations, or if you or someone else has become infected from a recent salon visit, report it to a health department.

2. If you are getting a pedicure, avoid shaving your legs (even though you may want to be nice and smooth for your nail technician, it’s really not worth the risk).

3. Don’t get a manicure if you already have a skin or nail infection or an infection of any kind that could possibly harm yourself or others.

4. Look for a prominently displayed state-issued operator’s license.

5. Make sure your nail technician washes his or her hands before starting the manicure or pedicure.

6. Find a nail technician who is happy to answer all of your questions (remember there are no stupid questions) about the manicure process and any infection prevention procedures the salon takes.