"Skin infections such as fungus are easily contracted under unsanitary conditions during a pedicure or manicure," says Elaine Lee, lead nail artist at Valley salon in New York. I mean, think about it—your feet are literally carrying you throughout your day, and they're sweating and collecting all sorts of germs, which, on its own, is fine! Introduce tools that are used on countless other people's feet and the bacteria and fungus living in the pedicure tubs, however, and you can run into problems like those infections Lee mentioned.
"Businesses that hire inexperienced technicians or do not practice quality over quantity take risks in causing and spreading infection," adds Lee. Step into a salon that's not diligent about sanitation, and you could potentially wind up with ingrown toenails, nail fungus, or even plantar warts, according to podiatrist Miguel Cunha, DPM and founder of Gotham Footcare. "Improper trimming of your nails too short or not straight across can often result in an ingrown toenail," he says. "Using contaminated utensils on your feet puts you at risk for nail fungus or warts." No thanks!
To avoid a pedicure that leaves your nails in worse condition, follow these 4 pro tips.
1. Aim for water-free: I've preached the perks of a waterless manicure before, but Lee stresses that it's the best way to go with your pedicures, too. "Establishments that provide water as compared to waterless pedicures run higher risks when not cleansing between clients," she says. Dr. Cunha agrees, adding that you should "avoid whirlpool foot baths, as overgrowth of fungi can occur in the filters and make it very difficult to clean properly between patients." The whirlpool-style foot baths can spread infections quickly since they are constantly recirculating water, he says. So if you're going to get a pedicure that uses water, make sure they at least use a plastic tub liner. "Or bring your own," says Dr. Cunha. "These plastic tub liners cover the walls of the tub, allowing you to feel the sensation of the water without coming into contact with the actual basin that can expose you to bacteria and fungus."
2. Look for stand-alone basins: Another thing to look for if your pedi involves water? A stand-alone tub for your feet. "A basin with a drain is way more likely to hold bacteria, so you're better off typically in a salon where the basins are stand alone and can be cleaned properly using cavicide," says Abramcyk.
3. Make sure the tools are properly sterilized: It sounds like a no brainer, and you'd think that every nail salon cleans their pedicure tools—but there are certain things you should look for, specifically. "When entering the salon, ask the technician if they use an autoclave," advises Nadine Abramcyk, co-founder of Tenoverten. "If they look at you puzzled, chances are they don't use one at the salon and the tools aren't being properly sanitized." They could just be using a Barbicide soak, she says, which isn't guaranteed to fight off 100 percent of the bacteria that might be found on the tools, while an autoclave is medical grade and "sterilizes tools by heating them to such a high heat that there's no chance for bacteria to live on them after cleansing," says Abramcyk.
If the pedicure tools come out of a clear pouch, she says there's a tab on the corner of the pouch that will turn brown to indicate the tools inside are actually clean. Also, check the nail file—if it has smudges or marks, don't let them use it on your nails. "Make sure there are no scratch marks on the file, ensuring that it is a single use item," says Abramcyk.
4. Bring your own stuff: When all else fails, Dr. Cunha recommends bringing your own nail-grooming tools to the salon. "Another thing to consider is to bring your own tools such as pumice stones, toe separators, and nail files, since this equipment is porous and cannot be sterilized effectively," he says. "Or you can request that the salon use the disposable ones and open the package in front of you to ensure it was never used before." He adds that all equipment made out of metal—like nail files or clippers—really need to be cleaned in an autoclave, so if they're not, bring your own. Or, ya know, you can just give yourself a fabulous pedicure at home.
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