Published on November 29, 2018

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Manicures and pedicures can be a powerful tool in self-care. Beyond just shiny layers of lacquer, a trip to the nail salon can be a one-stop shop to relaxation, but before you head to the salon for a rejuvenating treatment, there are some things you need to know—not only for your peace of mind but for your safety.

While you might assume your salon maintains a clean, safe environment, that’s not always the case, as you’ll see from an investigative report below. You might feel hesitant to check every little thing at your local salon (after all, they’re experts, right?), but knowledge is power, and a few quick tips can keep you infection-free and a happy, frequent salon visitor.

Tools Are Reused

Everything that is disposable during your manicure should be thrown after one use. That means checking that all files, buffers, wooden sticks, and disposable foot files are brand-new when you sit down in the chair. Think that’s pretty standard? Think again. A long-time nail salon health inspector we interviewed said this is a “very big issue” at nail salons. “I do feel that customers get used to the fact that reusing things is okay and normal,” says the inspector, who asked to remain anonymous. Stay diligent about cleanliness and ask for a new tool if it doesn’t appear to be fresh.

The Foot Tub Isn’t Being Deep Cleaned

Take a look around: How clean is your salon? If you are getting a pedicure, make sure that the tub is cleaned and disinfected after each use, especially if it has jets. “The tub should be filled up with EPA-approved disinfectant and run with the jets on so that the disinfectant can go through the pipes inside,” says the health inspector. “The area where the pipes are is the best for any bacteria to collect and grow because it is wet and dark.”

This is an important tip because these foot baths have caused an outbreak of mycobacterial infections, which can cause boils and scars, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A frightening 97 percent of salons tested by the CDC tested positive for this bacteria. When in doubt, ask for a simple soak in a cleaned large bowl, which many salons are preferring to do now.

Ensure that they also have and use hand sanitizer and a disinfecting solution for cuticle and nail tools too. An autoclave sterilization device should also be used to disinfect metal tools between clients.

They Use Credo Knives

Avoid those credo knives that have a dull razor to quickly “shave off” and remove calluses. They are strictly prohibited in New York because they are a common tool that harbors a lot—a lot—of bacteria and are incredibly dangerous. They should never be offered to you in a salon, but if they are, just say no.

They Aren’t Answering Questions

One major way to prevent infections and any other problems is simply asking questions. Ask your technician if that file is new, ask if the foot tub has been cleaned, or even be that person who asks if they can do it in front of you to ensure it’s cleaned properly. Your safety is worth it.

Cost is not excluded from this, either. No matter how fancy your salon is or how much you’re paying for that pedicure, the inspector says even some of the most high-end salons can have lapses, so pay attention and speak up when you feel something isn’t right—it’ll be worth it in the long run.