Spavelous Weekly Spa Magazine

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How to Stay Safe at the Nail Spa



Nail salon hygiene has been in the news lately due to some problems at a few very specific salons. However, problems appear to be the exception rather than the rule. Millions of women visit thousands of salons every year without incident. Nonetheless, the newsworthy incidents that have developed underscore the necessity of customer vigilance.

Receiving a manicure or pedicure from an unhygienic nail salon can lead to a range of problems. A common problem is a mild to moderate skin infection. This can occur if the nail care tools are unclean or if proper procedures for nail treatments are not being followed. Many infections clear up, but an antibiotic may be required. This type of infection can become serious if you do not treat it promptly and can pose a greater risk to children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

A more serious risk is that of disease transmission. Although the CDC has to date not reported any cases of blood-borne disease transmission in the salon industry, the risk is always present.

Nail Care

The use of non-sanitized instruments could theoretically lead to the transmission of HIV or Hepatitis. A much more likely occurrence is the transmission of cold, flu or a skin infection.

While the chances you'll get an infection at a nail salon are pretty low, it takes only one to make you wish you were more cautious in selecting a salon. Risks include nail fungus, bacterial infections, plantar's warts and even herpes.

There are inherent risks associated with the manicure and pedicure procedures due to using the same tools on different clients with the risk of breaking the skin a very real possibility. This is why properly sanitized tools with other important hygiene measures must always be adhered too.

When entering a manicure or pedicure salon always spend some time to sit down and observe the procedures of the staff in maintaining hygiene. This might just save your life in the future.

Here’s what to look for in a nail spa:

The spas establishment license from the State Board of Cosmetology and a poster of the bureau’s Health and Safety Rules displayed prominently, usually in the waiting area. The posted license must be the original, not a photocopy. If it’s not posted for all to see, just walk away.

Each manicurist also must have an individual license from the State Board of Cosmetology in full view.  To my knowledge, all states except Alaska, Connecticut, Nebraska and Utah require licenses for nail technicians, and most states require that the license be displayed for customers to see, and have a photograph of the technician attached to the license.

Nail Care


Nail Terminology Guide

Do Your Homework

Before making an appointment, take the time to check out any nail salon that you are considering. Talk to customers, check with the Better Business Bureau and most importantly, visit the salon. Watch the employees work, paying particular attention to their sterilization and cleaning methods. Speak with the salon’s receptionist. Ask for information on the salon’s procedures. If the receptionist is defensive or dismissive, the salon may have something to hide. Also, look for posted certifications, which demonstrate that the salon has undergone the rigorous state certification process. However, the best evidence of good hygiene practices remains your own observation. Back To Top


Overall Cleanliness

The spa should give the appearance of being neat and tidy. Look for clean, freshly swept and mopped floors. The waiting area should be sparkling clean and appear well cared for. The treatment area should appear freshly sanitized and technicians should clean as they go. Back To Top


Look Around for Warning Signs

Glance around the salon. If there is dust, debris or clippings on the floor or caught in corners, that's a warning sign that cleanliness is not of upmost importance. Back To Top


Hand Sanitation

Washing hands is one of the most basic ways to minimize the transmission of germs. Make sure that the spa insists on both the client and technician washing their hands prior to starting service. A fresh bowl of soapy water should be provided to each client for soaking the nails.  If stones or marbles are used in the water, these also need to be cleaned and sanitized. Back To Top


Station Setup

Even if the spa attempts to follow scrupulous sanitation guidelines, it can be difficult for a disorganized operation to succeed. Look for manicurists to follow a systematic process from greeting the customer to cleaning and sanitizing equipment (or placing it in proper receptacles for later sterilization). The manicurist’s table should be neatly organized with nothing scattered or strewn across it.

The towel at the table should be cleaned off between clients, disinfected with a hard surface disinfectant, and freshly washed linens put out. All non-disposable instruments used in the service should have been disinfected. All disposable items should have been discarded and fresh ones taken out for your use.  Don't be afraid to ask your nail technician how the instruments have been disinfected, and what solutions have been used.  Ask to see the bottle of sanitizing solution if you aren't satisfied.

Pedicure clients also should get clean towels to rest their feet on, and whirlpools should be disinfected between uses. Back To Top


Instrument Storage, Sanitation and Use

All instruments, including files and buffers, should be washed in soapy water after each client and fully immersed in a disinfectant approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for at least 10 minutes. Soiled instruments must be stored separately from clean instruments in labeled receptacles.

Instruments and supplies that cannot be disinfected, such as orange sticks and the sponges placed between the toes, should be thrown away immediately after use.

Never allow anyone to use a credo blade to cut away calluses on your heel or anywhere else. The blades are strictly illegal in California salons. Callus buffers must be cleaned and disinfected like other instruments.

Drills (or electric files) are commonly used in the industry and, when used properly, are perfectly safe.  You should not feel any pain or burning when the drill is being used; if you experience any discomfort, tell your technician immediately.  The only time a drill should be used on the natural nail is with a buffer. The use of drills on the cuticles is legal in most states, but cutting the skin is not. Manicures and pedicures should not be painful or leave your cuticles bloody and swollen. Drill bits should be cleaned after each client.

All Equipment containers should be clearly marked with the contents and status indicating dirty or clean and sanitized. Back To Top


Ventilation – Air Quality

Many of the chemicals used in a nail salon are highly noxious. A lack of ventilation can lead to a buildup of chemical fumes, which in turn can lead to respiratory distress and a greater chance of allergic reaction.

There should be adequate ventilation to remove fumes caused by nail products. There is an odor associated with some artificial nail products, but there is no danger to customers smelling it during their service.  However, an overpowering odor can be an indication of an inadequate ventilation system in the salon.  Ask your nail technician or the salon owner what is done in the salon to minimize exposure to odors, vapors, and filing dust for customer comfort.  An overpowering odor can also signify the use of MMA which has been prohibited by the FDA for use in nail Enhancement Products since the 70's. Back To Top


Product Knowledge

You have the right to get clear answers to your questions about procedures, materials being used and their contents.  Most salons use products that are for professionals only, and your technician should be able to explain what products she uses and why.  Back To Top


Sanitation Standards

Firstly when a client leaves, make sure that the manicurist of the pedicurist drains all the water from the foot spa along with any debris like old skin or toe nails from the pedicure spa basin. The surface of the pedicure spa should be cleaned thoroughly with soap or detergent to remove any visible dirt or debris and lastly rinsed with clean water. Once the initial cleaning is done, the access water should be wiped off with a paper towel which is then disposed. Disinfectant must then be sprayed on the surface of the pedicure spa where the client’s feet will be at. The disinfectant must be demonstrated as an active bactericide, fungicide and virucide. After the spray, the pedicure spa should then be wiped again with another paper towel.

The next procedures encompass the daily hygiene and sanitary procedures that manicure or pedicure nail salon should adopt ideally. The pedicure spas with splash screen should be removed and thoroughly sanitized by cleaning it with soap or detergent then sprayed with the same disinfectant mentioned earlier. The pedicure spa water systems should also be flushed at the end of everyday by keeping the water running for at least 5 minutes. If there is a pedicure chair then the chair along with any other equipment that might come in contact with the customer must be sanitized by spray wiping the surface with detergent and paper towels. At the end of each day the floor should be at the very least vacuumed to pick up any nails and other debris.

At the end of every working week there should also be a set of cleaning procedures that must be followed to keep the manicure or pedicure salon up to acceptable levels of hygiene. Firstly the pedicure foot spa must be flushed with a solution of about 5% bleach. Fill the pedicure spa up with a solution of 5% bleach and circulate the liquid through the system for at least 10 minutes. Leave the solution in the pedicure spa overnight or at least 5-10 hours before draining the system so that the pedicure spa is thoroughly sanitized. The floor should be thoroughly vacuumed and cleaned with disinfectant while all table tops and door handles wiped down with the disinfectant.

The above procedures are designed for the best possible sanitary conditions of a manicure and pedicure shop. I have not mentioned the disinfecting of equipment as that is another whole different area that warrants its own section. Back To Top


Check Into Proper Sterilization Techniques

Many salons use UV sterilizers, which look like toaster ovens, to sterilize tools. These won't kill bacteria.

The best way to sterilize tools is with an autoclave or disinfectant labeled "tuberculocidal." Disinfectant is the turquoise-colored water in glasses usually kept at stations. If you're really concerned about sterilization, ask to see the bottle the disinfectant comes in and make sure it's properly labeled. Back To Top


Bring Your Own Tools to the Spa

It's a great idea to purchase your own nail tools, both steel instruments (clean them with hydrogen peroxide) and non-metal tools.

Files, buffers, nail brushes and orange sticks are made of porous materials, which more easily harbor bacteria. Since wood products can't be sterilized, these tools should be used only once. Back To Top


Beware These Tools at Your Salon

Don't allow credo blades, razors, callus graters and cuticle cutters to be used during a visit. Again, these can cut skin allowing bacteria to enter. Back To Top


Don't Get Those Cuticles Cut

Your cuticles naturally protect your nail bed from bacteria. Since that's their purpose, it's best they be left alone or pushed back with an orange stick with its tip covered in a piece of cotton. Back To Top


Spa Visits Should Never Be Painful

If your manicure or pedicure hurts, make sure to tell the technician. At no time should the procedure hurt or sting. Back To Top


What if you have a problem with your nails?

Good communication between nail professional and customer is essential, so if you are not happy with your service or your nails, talk to your technician or the salon owner about it.

If you experience any redness, irritation, rash or bleeding following a salon treatment, do not wait to see if it goes away. Many infections are easy to treat early, but become progressively more difficult and expensive to treat as times goes on. See a doctor to determine the exact cause of the problem and receive treatment if necessary. Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice for future nail treatments, from avoiding a certain chemical to avoiding that salon altogether. Back To Top


How to Wage a Complaint

If you suspect that your salon is violating your state's laws, you can file a complaint with your state's cosmetology licensing board.

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Nail Terminology Guide

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Disclaimer: Information on this web site was gathered from many sources in public domain such as published books, articles, studies and web sites. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Please discuss your health conditions and treatments with your personal physician.




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