A North Carolina woman who claimed she was hospitalized with a disease reportedly contracted during a routine pedicure is one case of several that raises questions about the safety of getting your nails done.
Last year, several nail salons in Indiana were fined and placed on probation after a man's leg was amputated following a pedicure. The instrument in question was a callus cutter, a razor used to shave hard skin off of the bottoms of feet. The devices, which aren't permitted for salon use in some states (including Indiana and North Carolina), are just one of many ways people could contract an infection at a nail salon.
And it's not always obvious how bacteria and fungus can wreak havoc. Rachel Miest, assistant professor of dermatology at Mayo Clinic, said even clean-shaven legs or cut cuticles could seriously raise risk of infection. Note: Serious infections associated with nail salon services are rare, she said.
Here's what you should know before getting a manicure or pedicure:
OK, you don't need to waltz into the salon with furry legs, but avoid shaving them right before a pedicure. Shaving creates micro-tears in the skin that increase your chance of infection, Miest said.
New files and buffers only
All salon tools should be new or sanitized before they touch your hands or feet. That means technicians should be opening a package or pulling tools out of a hygiene solution (usually a blue liquid). New nail files and buffers should be used for each customer because there isn't any way to fully sanitize them. Only non-porous tools can be properly disinfected, according to the North Carolina Board of Cosmetic Art Examiners. States are responsible for enforcing sanitary regulations at nail salons, but that doesn't necessarily mean inspectors are popping in frequently. A CBS affiliate in Atlanta pointed out last year that just 12 inspectors are responsible for monitoring every nail salon in the state of Georgia.
About those pedicure basins
Pay attention to the pedicure spa basin before you stick your feet in. Salons should be disinfecting those after each use. The EPA recommends that a hospital-grade disinfectant sit in the basin for about 10 minutes to kill bacteria; and if it's a whirlpool spa, the cleaner should be circulated throughout the entire unit. Then, after disinfection, the basin should be drained and rinsed with clean water. Some state regulations require salons to flush whirlpool basins with bleach every week, letting the bleach sit for more than eight hours, the EPA notes. If you're unsure of a salon's cleaning practices, it doesn't hurt to ask.
Save the cuticles
Cutting cuticles is a routine part of most manicures and pedicures. The practice has no benefit, aside from cosmetic (when cut, a thin cuticle is left at the back of the nail bed and there's more nail to polish). The cuticle itself protects the nail and the skin around the nail from infection, Miest said. Cutting cuticles welcomes infection. She recommends telling technicians to push the cuticle back, but avoid cutting them.
Paper cut? Cancel your appointment
Do not go to a nail salon if you have cuts, scrapes or open wounds. Also, keep your athlete's foot (yes, it's contagious) fungus away from those pedicure bowls. Salon workers should also inspect clients' feet and legs before services, the EPA notes. Feet and legs are at a higher risk of developing infection, Miest said.
You might have an infection if ...
your skin is red or tender. A fever might also be a sign you picked up something other than a hot shade of pink, and you might want to call your primary doctor, Miest said.
Follow Ashley May on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets