9 Things to Watch Out for on Your Next Trip to the Nail Salon

Getting a pedicure is one of the most relaxing ways to spend your Sunday, amirite? You get to sip an iced coffee and get a massage as a nail technician rubs your feet and paints your nails—it’s truly a stress-lowering experience.

Well, until you find out that approximately 97 percent of nail salon footbaths tested contained a bacteria called M. fortuitum, which is known for causing boils on the skin. Fungal infections and plantar warts are another potential problem at nail salons, says the Centers for Disease Control.

“I have treated many patients for infections which they contracted from their local nail salons – the infections can be painful, usually require treatment with oral antibiotics, may require drainage procedures, and could result in scarring or permanent damage to or loss of nails,” says board certified dermatologist Robin Evans, MD.

Say it with me now: UGH.

It gets worse—though rarer, there have been cases of people needing their nail surgically removed after contracting a toe infection after a pedicure, and let’s not forget about the man who almost lost his left after getting a deadly bacterial infection from a puncture by a nail instrument.

All right, so that’s not to say you should never go get your nails done again. But you should take precaution when choosing where to get your nails done. Here are some things you can do to make sure you’ll get the most hygienic nail experience at your next salon:

  1. Spot check for cleanliness

    This could just mean a simple once-over to make sure you don’t see anything gross that catches your eye. “It goes without saying that a salon should look clean—if it doesn’t, it probably isn’t, and you should go elsewhere,” says Evans.

  2. Study their clothing

    What are the nail technicians wearing? Is her apron (if she’s wearing one—she should be) stained or clean? Is her tools tray organized or messy? Does the person appear nonchalant and laid back, or completely focused when painting nails? You can probably tell within the first few minutes if they’re a relatively cleanly person.

  3. Ask what type of foot baths they use

    No, they’re not all created equal. “Speak to the supervisor at the salon regarding what type of foot baths are used,” says Pruthi. “A lot of micro organisms are lingering within the jets of the whirlpool. Pipe-free whirlpools are better.”

  4. Ask them to clean the basin if it looks dirty

    Speaking of the foot bath, if it looks at all grimy, either leave the facility, or ask them to give it a wipe-down. “Basins that your feet soak in should be cleaned in between clients. If you are not sure that this was done, ask the technician to clean it before you put your feet in,” says Evans.

  5. Ask about the sterilization process

    Nail instruments need to be sterilized for quite some period of time—and some salons won’t thoroughly do this to cut down on time. “It’s a six-hour process to sterilize instruments,” says Dr. Jacqueline Sutera, a podiatrist. “You have to get them at really, really high temperatures; you have to soak them in different solutions; they have to be scrubbed. So putting them in that little toaster oven in between clients for a few minutes? I don’t think that that’s really doing much.”

  6. Keep an eye on disposable tools

    Sometimes the technician will reuse instruments such as buffers or nail files, but you’ll probably want to see if they have any single-use disposable items of this nature. The key here is to watch what they do with the instrument afterwards: If they throw it away, chances are they threw away the person’s before you too! (Plus it’s always a good sign when they open up a new package right in front of you.)

  7. Take a look at the nail file they use

    Speaking of nail files, ever feel like your nails are being whittled by sandpaper when getting your nails filed? It could be that the technician is using an overly coarse nail file, which can damage your nails, which makes them more susceptible to infection. See if they have a a finer-grit file or a glass file instead.

  8. Bring your own tools

    Don’t be afraid to bring your own nail clippers, cuticle nippers, and cuticle pushers if you’re unsure of the cleanliness or the salon’s cleaning processes. “A great way to get around spending a ton of money while making sure your skin won’t suffer later is to invest in your own set of tools. Bring them with you when you need a quick mani,” Evans says. Sure, people might stare, but which would you rather get: stares of a bacterial infection? We thought so.

  9. Spend the extra money

    Sometimes we might choose a salon based purely on cost—guilty! But it might be worth coughing up the extra $5 or so for a high-quality, clean manicure or pedicure. Your skin, body, and nails will all thank you later!

Have you ever experienced any kind of health-related issues after getting your nails done? What do you look for when choosing a nail salon?