What nail salons don't want you to know

pedicureYour nails create big beauty salon business. Spending anywhere from R100 – R250 a shot for a manicure and R150 – R250 for a pedicure (not including tip), your weekly or monthly salon visits are costing you precious pampering madibas. No wonder it's a 225 million rand a year industry.

The money you spend on these little luxuries is very important to the salon industry. They will do whatever it takes to keep you coming back for more. While sometimes "whatever it takes" is going above and beyond excellent service, cleanliness and technique, it can also mean cutting corners and deceiving the salon suppliers in order to keep costs down and business booming.

And not to totally scare you, but what's supposed to be a luxurious treat, can sometimes turn into your worst nightmare. Think skin eating diseases and infections. While yes, millions of women get manicures each year and don't experience any serious or life-threatening side effects, you'd be naive to believe that it could never happen to you. Nail salons that have been insufficiently cleaned or performed bad sanitization practices, as well as ones with inadequately trained nail technicians, could be a breeding ground for bacteria and a dangerous place for you to "unwind and relax”.
This is why we went straight to the pros who know, nail technicians and a podiatrist. To uncover the secrets nail salons don't want you to know.

You should always be careful.
Did you know that an estimated one million unsuspecting clients walk out of their chosen salon with infections. We are talking about bacterial, viral and fungal infections. No matter which salon you go to, there is always a risk of infection. Most salons are not following the proper protocols for disinfection which include not mixing their disinfectant solutions properly on a daily basis, not soaking their instruments properly and using fake products to reduce costs. And the problem is that there is no way to really verify that an instrument has been properly soaked and sterilized without watching the process.

Salons don’t turn clients away.
Like most businesses, most nail salons won't turn away paying customers. Which means that people who are sick, have nail infections or foot fungus are being worked on right next to you! Instead of being referred to an appropriate medical professional.

The greatest danger of a nail salon is the transfer of infection from one person to another. With millions of people whose immune systems are compromised by diabetes, HIV, cancer, hepatitis and other infective organisms, services offered in nail salons are dangerously susceptible to infection.

a woman with lotion on her handsSwapping and diluting liquids in bottles.
Many salons are filling expensive lotion bottles with a cheap generic lotion. That way the salons can charge you more for the manicure by claiming to use prestige products, but in reality are just deceiving you.

Similarly some salons will dilute nail polish bottles that have become thick from old age or from too much air exposure with nail polish remover. This compromises the quality of the polish, which will make the formula chip easier once on your nails. To ensure the life of your color and to protect any possible germ spreading, always have your own bottles.

Being cut doesn’t always show blood.
Breaks in the skin can be microscopic or highly visible. They can either come in with the client via cuts, scratches, hangnails, bitten nails, insect bites, paper cuts, split cuticles  or be created in the salon. Nail technicians using callus-cutting tools and nail nippers, files, cuticle pushers and electric units, can and do scratch and nick the skin. Sometimes drawing blood and sometimes not. But just because no blood is visible, doesn't mean you aren't susceptible to infective organisms.

If you've ever had your nails filed and it momentarily feels too hot in the corner for even a second then you've had the surface layer of your skin broken, leaving it open for infection.

Not every cost in included your treatment.
Some salons will try to keep certain added costs a secret. They try and up charge you for nail strengtheners or base coats and won't tell you until it's time to pay and leave. A quality nail salon will include all costs in the advertised price of the service. So make sure to ask if all costs are included before soaking your hands or feet.

Salons are not talking about you.
Some narcissists or paranoid customers might think that nail technicians are talking about them when they speak to each other in other languages across the room, but they aren't. Apparently they don't care to share with each other how lovely your nail beds are or how gross your big toe is. In general, they mostly gossip about their family and friends and the shows they watched last night on TV.

Not many disinfection solutions are 100% effective.
Some infective microorganisms are easy to kill and some are not. Unfortunately, there is industry-wide confusion about the definition of the term 'sterilize’.

Many nail technicians think their instruments are sterilized. When, in fact, they have no clue because not all disinfectant solutions are powerful enough to kill all viruses. When nail technicians aren't informed of customers' pre-existing medical conditions, they don't know how to properly disinfect for particular viruses.

These are medical situations which manicure and pedicure licensed technicians aren't trained for. It's not in their job description and isn't their fault because they are not schooled nor licensed to work in the presence of blood or to maintain a surgically sterile environment.

autoclaveThe safest bet for sterilization is an autoclave.
Many salons use UV light "sterilizer" boxes or other chemical solutions to disinfect their tools. This is legal and standard but not totally effective at killing all bacteria and infections. The only solution that works completely is an autoclave, a machine used to sterilize equipment and supplies using high pressure and steam. This kills 100% of all infective organisms. But currently only a few salons use autoclaves. So be careful.

How can you find out if your salon is using an autoclave so that you're a 100 % protected? First, ask the salon manager how they disinfect their tools and then look for the color change pouches that the instruments are prepared in. The color changes on the bag once correct sterilization conditions have been met. This color change indicates that the object inside the package has been processed. Autoclave pouches are therefore sealed and should be opened in front of you.

When to shave.
You shouldn't shave before getting a pedicure as pedicurists do not care if you have hair on your legs. Also, shaving your legs makes you more prone to infection as newly shaved legs have open pores and often tiny nicks you can't see that are susceptible to infectious diseases. So don't be wary of showing off some stubble at the salon.

Not all tools can't be sanitized.
You can only put metal tools in the autoclave. And as we stated before, only an autoclave kills a 100% of all bacteria and viruses. Nail salon tools like pumice stones, emery boards, nail buffers and foam toe separators need to be swapped out after each use to prevent the spread of bacteria. That's why you're best off bringing your own just in case the salon doesn't follow this practice. If you see any white residue on a nail file, it means it's been used on someone else.

Foot baths are not friendly.
Foot baths, though seemingly safe, are filled with city water which may or may not be free of microbes and are typically difficult to clean. Even though most nail salons disinfect their tubs, researchers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention typically find bacteria that could cause boils and rashes. And it's extremely hard to bust these salons with having microbe growth as many times salons aren't linked to the infections because boils can take as long as four months after a pedicure to develop.

Calluses don’t need to be removed.
Many salons will try and talk you into callous removal. This is usually an additional service and charge but it is not always necessary. If you're an athlete then you should never remove your calluses as these actually help level your performance. If you are not an athlete, you should have your calluses removed with a deep soak and scrub once they become thick and uncomfortable.

If you do opt for callous removal, always choose scrubbing or a chemical remover. Never allow your nail technician to cut or shave the skin off your feet or hands. Cutting is cutting and it’s not recommended. Not to mention, the more you cut, the thicker the calluses will grow back.
a woman with good feet
We hope this opens your eyes a bit and prepares you for a safer and more informed visit to your salon. If anything like this has happened or is happening, feel free to share with us below in our comments section...

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