A few decades ago, manicures and pedicures were something your grandmother and her friends did. Today, it has become popular with all ages--probably due to the general acceptance that women could pack away their panty hose and go bare-legged and the popularity of flip flops. As the consumer base widened, so did the number of nail salons, from store front services that featured express nail polish repair to high-end spas that offered a wide range of nail services that included organic and luxury cream treatments.  According to Jobbank.usa, there are over 78,000 manicurists in this country.

So who regulates these services and are they safe? Nail salons and technicians are license or certified  at the state level often under the category of Cosmetology. Each state has its own licensing/regulatory agency and rules.  These agencies regulate services ranging from acupuncturists to barbers to veterinary technicians.    Generally, the regulations are set by state law and include very specific guidelines that address safety and cleanliness.  The agency is responsible for oversight.  However, a call to one such agency confirmed my suspicion that in these trying fiscal times, there is little staff to visit the thousands of establishments under their jurisdiction.

So what is a girl/woman to do?

First of all, what are the risks?   Podiatrists report that skin and nail infections are seen in people who frequent nail salons and pedicures seem to be of special concern.  Even if the risk is low, it takes only one infection to create a health problem.   If a salon is vigilant and follows industry and government standards,  they can be perfectly safe.  If not, the list of possible problems is pretty gross so they are not listed here.

It is really up to the customer to decide if she feels a particular salon is keeping up its standards.   Here is a list of questions you can ask before booking:

  • Does the salon have a license to operate from the state? (it should be posted somewhere)
  • Is your technician either certified or licensed by the state?  If your technician is from another country or another state, she is still required to be licensed where she practices.
  • How does the salon clean its tools? (it takes more than 10 minutes for tools to be sterilized in a sterilizer or 25 minutes if UV light is used; a quick spritz of alcohol is not enough)
  • How is the pedicure bath cleaned between clients?  (unscrubbed tubs are a breeding ground for fungal and bacterial infections including staph; also jet tubs can be particularly unsafe if the filter is not changed frequently)

Are there some things you can do to protect yourself if you do have frequent pedis and manis?

  • Bring your own tools (some salons will store them for you)
  • Avoid cutting cuticles and  using a razor to shave calluses.
  • Do not shave your legs before your appointment.
  • Do not be shy if you see something you feel is unsafe--point it out to the owner.

If you are truly adventurous and want to try a fish pedicure or fish therapy, a recent fad where you put your feet in a tub filled with tiny fish that eat away dead skin, please beware.  Sanitizing fish in accordance with most sanitation standards, would most certainly kill the fish!  Several states have posted alerts indicating this treatment is not safe.

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Comments

How fascinating. First of all, I think the last thing to give me any peace of mind as to the cleanliness, or health status of any salon, would be that any state department may visit from time to time. Being licensed as such also does not guarantee anything! What is enormously appealing is the thought of having fish clean up one's dead cells. A natural and organic process! It seems to me a whole lot healthier than having to make sure the equipment was sanitized properly. Instead of having to sanitize the poor fish, maybe a clean bowl of water can be used for each foot cleanse? ie. change the water but not the fish!

As someone who continues to battle an infection I got from a nail salon, I encourage everyone to choose their salon wisely AND take their own tools. I've watched far too many manicurists remove tools from the sterilizer after only a few minutes! Better yet, do your own

I am a registered Podiatrist and I am still amazed at the number of people who never ask me if my instruments have been sterilized or to see my credentials and insurance. I am only too pleased to show them if asked, so come on ladies speak up at the salon and complain if your not happy! Sam

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You can never be too careful about your health. When going to the spa, I always check with the people on how they sanitize their equipment. It's not worth it to look beautiful at the cost of health problems.

Ha! That's precisely why I do my own nails! Once you get those nasty fungal infections, you just can't seem to get rid of it! Besides, doing it by myself saves a bunch - not a bad move in these financially trying times, no?

There is only one accepted method of sterilizing instruments, these are standards by the FDA and the CDC. The only acceptable and complete affective method is Autoclaving all instruments in an FDA listed Autoclave or Sterilizer. Soaking instruments in blue viralcides cannot be validated and takes hours and does not address spores. There is not a U.V. listed sterilizer by the FDA, the reason for that is because they do not kill absolutely all bacteria and viruses. Only and FDA listed autoclave can apply enough heat, pressure and time to an instrument to completely sterilize it of all infections microorganisms. Please let your local salon know that only an autoclave is an acceptable method of protecting the health and well being of clients.

Hello, We just launched a site specifically to address this issue. Our focus is primarily on the proper use of sterilizers in nail salons. We found that the majority of nail salons that have sterilizers, use UV sterilizers, which unfortunately don't actually kill bacteria. At our site we give a whole checklist, and really I don't mean to be one of those "hey you have a great site, come check out our site" but we'd really appreciate your feedback on our site to make sure the information is clear. Of course, if you don't feel like going to our site, the summary of our sterilizer checklist is that the most appropriate sterilizer for a nail salon is a steam sterilizer, and specifically we recommend the Prestige because it meets the speed and pricing needs of most nail salons. Anyway, this is a very important issue, too many women get nailed with fungus (Ha, that's a good line "Don't get nailed with fungus" :)

Hilarious. I have 6 year old daughters doing their nails. Do they really do things more sanitary than most salons? Anyway, I'll be keeping my eye on them a little more vigilantly now, even though they are momma trained.

I agree with Dr. ED. As professionals working in a service oriented field, chiropractors need to make sure they have a clean and safe envirnoment. People need to feel welcome and happy about the place they are going to spend their money at.

Great article. I'll make sure to recommend it to all of my friends to whom this would (or at least should) be a concern. And I totally agree with Susan Deasis (second comment) - "you can never be too careful about your health"! And, yes, I too, always check with the people how they sanitize the material. I can only encourage everybody else to do likewise. And like Sam Ward noted, speak up if you are not happy. In my opinion, just simply not going back to a nail salon will not give the owners the feedback they need. Best to all of you (and thanks for the interesting article), Pia

Be extra careful if you are traveling and decide to get your nails done in a foreign country. Many times their safety standards aren’t what they should be or are totally ignored.

Be extra careful if you are traveling and decide to get your nails done in a foreign country. Many times their safety standards aren't what they should be or are totally ignored.

What a great read. It just goes to show how important it is to carry out health and safety checks , especially when you are dealing with delicate things such as nails. And like the last blogger mentioned, the self kit is more than essential.

Not just nail salons! I'm a personal fitness trainer, and you'd be amazed at how many fellow trainers i know who don't even have the basic qualifications. It's the same in most industries, regulation are never enforced as they should be

As someone who continues to battle an infection I got from a nail salon, I encourage everyone to choose their salon wisely AND take their own tools.

As professionals it is our responsibility to ensure the safety of our clients, whether we are chiropractors, pedicurists or dog groomers. Professionalism is a privilege that requires something more of us. If we are not willing to give that something we should relinquish our position to make room for those who will.

These infections can be pretty serious. A friend got a nail infection, even though she had been getting hers done for over 15 years. It showed up while on business in England, causing quite a few problems. So just because it has never happened to you, be careful.

The best advice you posted right there was to bring your own kit. It is a small investment and well worth the extra cost.

Cross infection is a subject most women don't think about when relaxing while having a pedicure. Definitely a timely reminder.

Have been bringing my own kit for years. I even have my own brush and scissors for my stylist. It may seem extreme to most but I feel much more secure.

"So who regulates these services and are they safe?" Terrific question to a great article! Yes, the regulations should be set by state law and include very specific guidelines that address safety and cleanliness. However, this is currently not the case to all salons, as some salons operate without license. It is our job then to know which ones to pay for their services.

Clean tools in salon is very important because you can be infected with toenail fungus if the tools are unclean.

Well, never go for the cheapest one... To get quality it will always need a little bit more money

Suggesting that cheap polish are not safe to use. And to be vigilant in choosing one.

It's always better to be safe than sorry. Asking those questions is a great idea and something a good salon should have no problem answering. It would also be a good idea to check general cleanliness. You can always notice the difference between a clean salon and a not so clean one.

This is very helpful advice. Cleanliness is of the utmost importance in nail salons. I'll be staying away from the fish pedicures!

Cleanliness is very important for chiropractic offices, too! Our massage therapists change the sheets for each patient, we sanitize the chiropractic tables and massage beds after each use, and we have hand sanitizer in each room.

Good advice, I found this very interesting! Especially the information about the fish as our local salon has just started this procedure! I was going to have a go, not so sure now!?

I have been to a couple salons where a cringed when I started getting my pedicure. Some salons health codes need to be brought up to par. Thanks again for the article it gives me something to do at work.

We always need to be concerned with getting government involved in anything. Something as simple as a pedicure or manicure could pose potential risks, but at what cost? The government would probably have to dump billions of dollars into something like this all at the cost of the taxpayer. I would rather them save money and help people in other ways.

Fish pedicures are really taking off now in the UK, not for me though!

as a woman i found this article interesting and highly informative. i think cleanliness in a salon also matters a lot and considers my health more.

most of the salons do not have salon insurance. do your research well and if you can buy your own stuff and do manicure and pedicure from home.

Working from a home salon, I have to be very careful regarding the safety of my clients as I am responsible for providing them with a safe service in clean, hygienic surroundings. I do take precautions to sterilize my tools and I also have a current salon insurance policy.

fish pedicures are really taking off in the uk, there is literally at least two in every major town

Let this be a valuable lesson to everyone. Cheaper is not always the best way to go. You inevitable get what you pay for.

Fish pedicure, fish therapy or fish reflexology is just a passing fad. Such therapy may clear your dead skin and make you feel good, but this is only a temporary condition. Good hygiene and habits should be practised for your long term health.

Thanks for these wonderful tips on foot health and pedicure. Everybody should follow your advice and use it as a blueprint to follow.

thanks, good work on this article. great blog and nice share sir. keep it up.

Need not be long nails, super colorful and wonderful, it is sufficient that they are well maintained to complete the overall appearance. Easy to make, a full manicure is attractive to oneself and to others. In addition to developing a rotective role, nails represent the infallible and unmistakable mirror of our health, personal care and our personality. Therefore in most cases, during interviews for a job, the hands are observed .. pepe

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