From multicolored, creamy pastels to statement-making neons to arty geometric designs—Instragammable mani-pedis are all the rage this summer.
Whether you get your nails done religiously or only for special occasions, you may be surprised to learn that in addition to leaving the nail salon with a colorful, new full set—you could be going home with a bad infection.
That’s right, the average nail spa is a breeding ground for germs. Case in point—I once got toenail fungus after getting a pedicure. Gross, right? I knew, among other things, that continuously having my nails done without taking a break and giving them time to breathe could cause an infection to develop (nail polish can trap in moisture, and fungi thrive in damp environments), but I hadn’t painted my toenails in several weeks. Of course, there was no way for me to know for certain what led to the infection, but, after ruling out other possible causes—I wondered whether the salon I visited could be to blame.
Curious, I—ever the germaphobe—did a quick Google search to find out just how hygienic nail salons actually are, and the results were startling. A nasty fungal nail infection was apparently just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. And if you think your nails are safe because you only get $100 manicures at your favorite luxe spa—think again. Whether you frequent bougie, high-end nail spas or cheap mall salons—you could still be at risk.
Bacterial infections like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA, a type of staph infection) and Mycobacterium fortuitum—a contagious bug that can cause painful, scarring boils on your legs—are some infections commonly contracted at salons. In fact, in 2000, an outbreak of the latter occurred in nail salons across Northern California, resulting in study findings by the Centers for Disease Control that indicated a whopping 97 percent of the nail salons’ footbaths tested positive for the bacteria. Mani-pedis can also cause traumas to your skin and leave you more prone to infections like Paronychia, which is caused by damage to the cuticles and can result in tender swelling around your nails.
Even more startling is the fact that blood-borne diseases like hepatitis and even HIV could potentially be transmitted via cuticle cutters, razors, sharp-edged foot files, and other tools that puncture the skin!
Of course, nail salons are required to disinfect their equipment in between each customer, however, in order for this to be effective, the tools must be soaked for more than 20 minutes. Dr. Robert Spalding, a Tennessee podiatrist and author of the book Death by Pedicure (which gives an in-depth account of all the possible infections found in the nail salon industry), estimates 75 percent of U.S. nail salons don’t actually follow disinfection protocols. (!!!)
So, how can you reduce these risks?
1. Ask your nail tech to wear gloves
If your nail technician doesn’t already, ask them to put on a pair of gloves before handling your hands or feet in order to help reduce contact with icky germs and contagious diseases.
2. Bring your own supplies
If you get your nails done regularly, you should definitely invest in your own nail kit. In fact, it’s highly likely you already have most of the tools you need lying around your house! Phone ahead and ask if your nail technician will allow it. If they say no—call around and find someone who will. And don’t forget to sterilize your own tools in between each use!
3. Schedule your appointment for the morning
If you’re dead set on not bringing your own nail kit to your next nail appointment, then at least opt for getting your nails done in the AM. It’s more likely your salon, and thus their workstations and equipment, will be cleaner at the start of the shift.
4. Don’t shave or wax
Shaving before you get a pedicure can lead to tiny cuts on your skin, giving germs a free pass into your body and leaving you more vulnerable to infection.
5. Do your own nails
Related: Are Gel Manicures Safe?
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