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.

Image courtesy of photopin.com

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:

Image courtesy of photopin.com

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.

Image courtesy of photopin.com

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.







dan kegel March 6, 2013 at 12:26 am

Point 1 and point 4 are redundant…

Danielle Taubman March 6, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Hi Dan, Indeed they are! Thanks for reading and for letting me know. It’s now fixed.

Loon March 6, 2013 at 10:37 am

Interesting article. In “Tools such as nail files and buffers should not be reused because they cannot be adequately cleaned, although it few salons seem to follow this”, you should remove the “it” after “although”.

Danielle Taubman March 6, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Hi Loon, I’m glad you enjoyed the post despite the typo. I’ve edited it out. Thanks for reading- and for reading carefully!

Richard March 6, 2013 at 10:58 am

The National Restaurant Association has a rigorous food safety training and certification program — https://www.servsafe.com/home.aspx. It would be nice to see a similar program in this industry. When I go into a restaurant and see a Servsafe certificate, I know that the establishment has supervisors who are highly trained to avoid foodborne disease transmission. Hopefully, it could be a marketing benefit to nail salons that would have the safety certification.

Danielle Taubman March 10, 2013 at 9:27 am

I’m familiar with Servsafe and it certainly would be beneficial to have a nail salon certification that is as rigorous as the Servsafe food safety certification. Each nail salon and the manicurists employed there are required to be licensed by the state, but I’m not familiar with the particular requirements involved in becoming certified. Clearly though, based on research and individual reports, there are discrepancies in the safety and cleanliness standards to which each salon adheres. Perhaps a stricter certification process and greater enforcement of safety regulations would be beneficial for public health.

Michael March 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm

A couple of thoughts:
1. A good bath for the legs is probably a good idea between the pedicure and shaving.
2. What does the literature say about the recent pedicure fad of letting fish nibble the callouses off?

Danielle Taubman March 10, 2013 at 9:34 am

Hi Michael,
There is not much in the literature about fish pedicures, likely because it is relatively new. The few sources available in the literature note that the risks associated with exposure are low and that only a few reports of infection from the procedure exist. You can read more here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=fish+pedicure

Thanks for reading!

Reva Berman March 7, 2013 at 11:05 am

The place that I like to go to, I watch them open a sealed package with newly sterilized instruments in it each time. I didn’t realize how comforting that act actually is until I read your post. I often think about the UV lights on my hands and the potential for skin cancer rather than the instruments being used, but it’s important to keep that in mind as well. Personally, I think its worth the extra few dollars to know that you are in a clean and safe establishment.

Danielle Taubman March 10, 2013 at 9:48 am

Hi Reva,
Thanks for your comment. It sounds like the nail salon you go to is focused on the safety of its clients. The UV lights that are used with Shellac manicures or for drying regular manicures is certainly a potential concern that many people don’t consider. However, typically clients only stay under the light for only a minute or so. More research in this area would be helpful in guiding salon patrons to make informed decisions about the safety of UV light nail drying.

Anne March 11, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I work for a local health department in Michigan, and we do not inspect nail or hair salons. We do inspect tattoo parlors. However, we could theoretically tell you if the site was a subject of a communicable disease investigation, but the diseases that would be transmitted would be difficult to track without a large outbreak. Nail and hair professionals are regulated through licensure with the State of Michigan, but again not at the local level. I would recommend modifying the recommendation to “call your local health department” — that probably varies by state. Of course, once someone becomes ill they SHOULD contact the health department so the site can be investigated.

Danielle Taubman March 13, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Hi Anne. Thank you for your comment and for the information straight from the source! I have modified the recommendation to “call your local health department”, which I found through my research of this topic and must have been inaccurate or specific to particular states only. Hopefully this modification better represents the role that health departments can play in addressing nail salon safety.

Angela March 12, 2013 at 8:15 am

Thanks for the post! When it comes to the new popular form of nail salon, there is usually a focus on the health and work issues of the people that work in the salons, so it’s interesting to also see a post on how customers may be affected.

Danielle Taubman March 13, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Hi Angela. I’m glad my post provided a different perspective on this issue for you. I agree that much of the extant research focuses on employee safety. I wanted to bring up an arguably under-researched area of nail salon safety that affects a broader audience than does nail technician safety.

Sara D. March 28, 2013 at 7:59 am

Hi, l love the tips on how to know if a nail salon is safe or not. Knowing about your health risks in nail salons is very important. I never thought you could receive HIV from nail salons. The health risks associated with nail salons should be talked about much more with people who frequent them. Could there also be risks associated with the sinks, the waxing beds and the massage chairs? #SPX9

Marianella March 28, 2013 at 8:15 am

I really liked how you included tips on how to reduce your risk of manicure infection. Infections caused from mani-pedis are something that our society does not announce and I do believe that we should be more open minded and educated on this subject, this could be another way of reducing the risk of catching these infections. One fact that I found interesting was that tools such as nail filers and buffers should not be used twice and that other tools should be soaked in a cleaning slant for at least 10-20 minutes. I do not believe that this method of sanitizing is often used. What are some appropriate questions to ask when you go to a nail salon without sounding rude or intruding? I appreciate how you took the time to research this subject and hope on learning more about this subject. #SPX9

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