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Nail salon safety: how to avoid a foot bath faux pas


A visit to the nail salon is a time to relax, decompress and spruce up your digits, but don't think you're out of the water (or foot bath) just yet. Have you considered the safety of your visit?

This week on “Take Care,” Dr. Dana Stern talks about nail salon safety and how to avoid catching fungal infections. Stern is assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

While a trip to the nail salon is a good thing, it can be a cesspool for bacteria.

“The most common entities that one could acquire are fungal infections and, unfortunately, bacterial infection as well, which can be quite serious,” Stern says. “More rare infections that can be acquired in salons would include things like herpes virus and even really serious infections such as hepatitis C and, theoretically, HIV.”

Stern recommends taking a quick look around the salon and noting cleanliness and if the nail technicians are washing their hands after each customer.

“Most salons don’t wear gloves like health care workers,” Stern says. “A simple measure such as hand washing is really a standard of care.”

She also says to make sure your technician has a license, which should be displayed.

Stern strongly advises bringing your own tools to the nail salon and cleaning them yourself.

“They actually have to be cleaned even if you’re the only one using them,” Stern says “You really want to be taking your health into your own hands, so to speak.”

If you don’t bring your own nail tools, note where the technician’s tools are coming from.

“Are the products themselves properly sealed?” Stern says. “Are they being removed from a dirty drawer?”

Stern says some tools are only for one-time use, such as the toe separators, porous files and certain abrasives used to remove calluses. Using these from client-to-client can transmit nail fungus.

According to Stern, the salon industry is largely unregulated. There are only a few salon inspectors per state, leaving the most of the responsibility for hygiene to the workers of the salon.

“When you’re walking into a salon you’re really depending on the fact that the technicians who are working there are consistently doing things correctly,” Stern says.  

The blue liquid where the tools are put after each use is usually Barbicide, a type of disinfectant. The tools are supposed to be soaked for 10 to 20 minutes and the liquid should be periodically changed. However, Stern says, that isn’t always the case.

“There’s a lot of variables when corners can be cut or just legitimate human error-related mistakes happen,” Stern says. “For that reason, I really suggest doing that part of the treatment yourself.”

According to Stern, there are two ways to clean your own tools. You can scrub your tools with hot soapy water, boil them, dry them thoroughly with a clean paper towel and then place them in a sealed Ziploc bag; or you can soak the tools with rubbing alcohol after scrubbing them with the hot water.

“It’s pretty simple,” Stern says. “At least you know then that they’re your tools; they’re not being really shared with the public. That’s really the best way to enjoy a manicure or pedicure.”