Pedicure Predicaments: How to Avoid Infection

How risky are pedicures? A num­ber of reports have linked them to all kinds of nasty infections, some requiring emergency treatment and some even considered life-threatening.

Skin and nail infections, from bacteria, fungi, and viruses, can spread between cus­tomers in a nail salon when hygienic prac­tices are not followed. Of particular concern is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which can enter breaks in the skin and cause not only local but also systemic infections. Another con­cern is mycobacterial infection, which may be misdiagnosed as a staph infection. Nail fungus, plantar warts, and blood-borne dis­eases such as hepatitis Bare some other things you can pick up in a dirty nail salon.

However, if you go to a reputable salon and take certain precautions, it’s generally safe. You have to be vigilant in checking how the salon operates, and you may also have to ask questions of the manager. Here are some tips (most of which apply to manicures as well):

  • Look for general cleanliness. Do the nail technicians wash their hands or change their gloves between customers? Are state licenses and inspection reports (required in most, but not all, states) posted?
  • Make sure the footbaths are cleaned with soap or detergent and then disin­fected between customers with an EPA-registered hospital- or medical-grade disinfectant (if in doubt, ask to see the bottle). If the salon uses disposable plastic liners in the footbaths, they should be changed between clients.
  • Make sure the tools are also cleaned properly before each use—ideally in an autoclave, or by soaking in disinfectant for at least 10 to 20 minutes. UV sanitizers are often used but are not adequately protective. Non-metal tools that can’t be cleaned, such as emery boards and pumice stones, should not be used on more than one customer.
  • Better yet, bring your own pedicure set. You don’t need your own nail polish, since it doesn’t support microbial growth.
  • Don’t shave or wax your legs or use any depila­tories within 24 hours of your appointment, since that can cause little nicks (not always visible) that serve as portals for bacteria to enter. Don’t have a pedicure if you have any wounds on your feet or lower legs, even simple scratches or bug bites.
  • Ask the pedicurist not to cut your cuticles (they serve as a natural barrier against microbes) or use callus graters or credo blades (sometimes used to cut cal­luses). Gently pushing cuticles back is okay.
  • Think twice about going to a nail salon if you have certain medical condi­tions including compromised immunity, diabetes, or microvascular disease. Some podiatrist offices offer medical pedicures, which may be covered by insurance. Medi­care may even cover the cost of home vis­its for nail trimming.

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