Avoid Infection at the Nail Salon
If you decide to treat yourself to gorgeous nails, learn how shared tools, warm foot baths, and strong fumes can affect your health.

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Picture of person being given a manicure Avoid Infection at the Nail Salon

You visit a nail salon to be pampered, and you walk away with beautiful nails. But before you set up your appointment, be aware of some safety concerns at the nail salon.

Most nail salons want to do the right thing and follow strict health and safety guidelines. A salon is not the same as a hospital or doctor's office. Employees use disinfectants, but are not required to use more strict sterilization procedures that would prevent skin infections and other harmful diseases like:

  • Hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • HIV
  • Athlete's foot and nail fungus
  • Bacterial infections

Nail salon employees have to use sharp and pointy tools to do their jobs. Whenever they use such a tool, the skin can be broken and possibly get infected. If they use the same tool on more than one customer, infections can be spread. The manicure or pedicure should not be painful or leave your skin red or swollen.

Another source of infection is the foot bath. The warm water is perfect for the growth of bacteria. A small break in the skin or an injured cuticle can allow bacteria, fungi, or viruses to enter your body. So, look for a clean work area. Foot bath units should be cleaned and disinfected after each use. Ask if this is the case if you are not sure.

Ideally, a nail salon uses disposable tools. This is not always possible because some of the tools are too expensive. Many doctors recommend that you bring your own tools to a nail salon. This prevents you from getting someone else's infection. If you do this, keep your tools clean and wipe them with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide after each use.

Make sure the manicurist does not cut your cuticles. The cuticle's job is to seal the space between the nail and the nail bed and prevent any bacteria or virus from entering your body. When the cuticles are cut back too much or get hurt, the nail bed is easily infected.

Another concern at the nail salon is the fumes that come from the nail products. These are less worrisome for the customer, who is not exposed to them for a long time. A salon worker, on the other hand, may be exposed to toxic fumes for 12 or more hours every day. Some solvents in nail polish, polish remover, and chemicals used to apply artificial nails are known to cause headaches, dizziness, or even nerve damage and cancer over the long term.

Good ventilation of the salon is very important. Ask yourself if there is a strong solvent smell when you enter a salon. If there is, the salon is not getting enough air.

Use common sense when you choose a nail salon. Does it look clean? Does the air smell fresh? Your risk of infection also increases if the salon uses low-quality products. So be careful about where you get cosmetic services. You may get more than what you wished for.

By Barbara Kunz, PhD, Staff Writer
Created on 01/11/2007
Updated on 09/06/2011
  • Oregon Health Licensing Agency. Nail salons: consumer information.
  • Winthrop KL, Abrams M, Yakrus M, et al. An outbreak of mycobacterial furunculosis associated with foot baths at a nail salon. New England Journal of Medicine. 2002;346(18):1366-71.
  • American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. Nail fungus infection.
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