How to Stay Safe at the Nail Salon

Woman getting a pedicure in a salon
Woman getting a pedicure in a salon. Echo / Getty Images

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.

To insure you're safe, make sure your salon follows the following procedures and make sure you know what to watch for.

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.

Salon 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.

Bring Your Own Tools to the Salon

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.

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. Here, in New York City, my salon of choice used to use razors on the bottom of feet, but no more.

Ever since the 2015 New York Times expose on nail salons in the city, salons have gotten much more stringent on following safety rules and procedures. 

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 utmost importance to this particular salon.

The technicians should be taking care of themselves as well. According to the NY Times expose, some salon owners treat their employees terribly, paying them poorly, having them work long hours and treating them like indentured servants. While the nail salons in New York City have drastically improved worker conditions since the article came out, you want to be on the lookout for unsafe practices unfair working conditions. 

Also look for the salon's license, which should be posted on the wall along with the technician's licenses. All technicians should be licensed. 

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.

Still concerned? Get your manis and pedis done a medi-spas, which are overseen by a physician.

Are Foot baths an Infection Risk?

Foot baths in salons are a debatable as a health risk.

According to infectious disease specialist Kevin Winthrop, MD, in an article on WebMD, you're not likely to get an infection from a foot bath because salon technicians clean them after every use.

But a study by the Centers for Disease Control disproves that. This study found that 97 percent of nail salon foot baths tested contained M. fortuitum, a bacteria that can nasty skin infections. Plantar warts and fungal infections are other causes for concern. To combat this, more and more salons are using plastic liners or Hefty bags in their foot baths. My salon now uses plastic liners for every new pedicure. 

So what should you watch for? Foot baths should be washed with hot, soapy water and sprayed with a disinfectant after each use. Really concerned? Call ahead and find out if the salon uses plastic liners.


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. Check out for a list of contacts by state.