What to Watch Out for at the Nail Salon

Headed to the nail salon for a manicure or pedicure? It can be a good way to care for your nails and pamper yourself. However, not all nail salons are doing business in a way that promotes healthy nails and hygiene. Our dermatologists give you the lowdown on what to watch out for when choosing a nail salon.

Dirty Work Station. Do you know what dust is made up of? A good portion of it is sloughed off human cells. That’s why a dusty, unkempt nail station is a red flag. Dust also harbors bacteria, Take a good look around before sitting down to have your nails done. Workstations should appear clean and sanitary. Trash receptacles should be covered, like in a medical office, and not overflowing with trash, which contributes to airborne pollutants and pathogens like bacteria and mold spores. Has someone just stood up from the workstation? The nail tech should scrub it clean before you take your turn.

Dirty Tools. Any porous tools, such as nail files, orange sticks, pumice stones, and buffers, should be single-use per client. Otherwise they can breed bacteria and pass fungus from one client to the next. Metal tools can be re-used if they are properly sterilized in an autoclave. But beware—UV sterilizers are not the same as autoclaves! A true sterilizer heats tools to about 400 degrees for effective sterilization. UV lights do not achieve the same results. One way to be sure the tools your nail salon is using are safe is to bring your own!

Poor Filing Practices. Nail files come in different grits, ranging from coarse to fine. A new nail file should be used for each client, and the right grit should be used for the right purpose. Coarse files are only appropriate for artificial nails—they can damage natural nails. Filing should also be done from the outside corners of the nail toward the center to avoid microscopic splits in the nail caused by back and forth filing. Lastly, your nail tech should never file the surface of your nail. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t make polish stay on longer, and it’s just plain bad for your nails.

Cuticle Cutting. Cuticles are there for a reason—to provide a barrier against bacteria. Cutting them is not needed unless you have a hangnail, and in those cases the nippers should be sharp so they do not pull off too much skin. The proper care for cuticles during a manicure is to soften them and gently push them back, not to cut them.

Aggressive Gel Removal. Removing gels the proper way takes patience and does not require scraping, metal tools and pain. If your nail tech is doing a hack job on your gels, it’s definitely a red flag! Your tech should cover your fingertips in acetone-soaked pads, wrap them in foil, and leave them to sit for at least 10 minutes. After that, an orange stick can be used to gently nudge the gel off.

Pedicure Spas. Yes, they feel good on your feet, but pedicure jacuzzis are hotbeds of bacteria and not a good idea. If you think those plastic liners do anything at all to protect you, unfortunately that’s not the case. Bacteria live inside the plumbing of those units, where it is very difficult to clean. The safest way to get a footbath during a pedicure is in a non-jet soaking tub that is cleaned thoroughly between clients.

If you are unlucky enough to have gotten an infection from a nail spa, a quick trip to the dermatologist can get you the care you need. Left untreated, nail infections can linger for months or longer. Don’t wait!