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Nail Salon Hygiene - What Nail Artists Don't Tell While You're Getting Your Nails Done

I recently came across a fairly disturbing study on nail salon hygiene conducted by Choice magazine.

In this study, a group of lucky nail salon shadow shoppers was asked to visit professional nail salons and report on their hygiene levels. Over 50 nail salons were visited and, according to the study, more than a third of the salons visited were found to be unsatisfactory, with their main complaints being bad hygiene standards, poor customer service and shoddily done manicures.

Upon entering the salon, the participants were instructed to request a complete manicure, tell the nail artist that they had never had a professional manicure done before, then ask the salon professional to describe what the process entailed. After the session was over, each of the participants were asked to fill a questionnaire, reporting on various aspects of their experience - levels of hygiene observed, how long the manicure took and how much it cost and whether the experience was satisfactory or not.

According to the report, 92% of the technicians who attempted to use metal cuticle clippers on the shadow shoppers didn't put on gloves. Even worse, they did not use an implement that was package-sealed, even though half of the nail technicians claimed the instrument had been autoclaved (autoclaving is the process of heating water above boiling point in a pressurized device - it is the safest way to sterilize equipment). The shoppers also reported several hygiene breaches on equipment such as nail files and buffers, which should either be disposable or cleaned between clients. A few salons had surfaces that weren't cleaned between clients and were covered in dust, or even pieces of skin. In one salon, a technician kept her dirty implements in the cash drawer.

Some of the actual comments from the survey participants regarding the low hygiene levels they experienced were as follows:

"The technician picked up the metal scissors ... used on someone else's feet ... she used them to cut some skin from around her own nail. She then went to use them on me."

"This salon had an overpowering smell that burnt my throat and made me feel ill."

"The technicians washed the handtowels in the foot spas."

"Counters and floors were dirty, instruments reused and technicians did not wash their hands at all."

"The technician had open wounds on her hands. I asked her to put gloves on."

Although different state departments of health have their own guidelines for health and safety that nail artists are supposed to follow, a basic requirement of infection control is hand washing - either with soap and water, or a 70% alcohol (or alcohol and chlorhexidine) rub. According to basic hygiene guidelines, both the nail artist and their clients should clean their hands before a manicure.

According to the reports submitted by the shadow shoppers, the majority weren't asked to wash their hands before the treatment, and only 8% of nail technicians were actually observed washing their hands directly before starting the manicure. 64% of nail salon workers didn't wash their hands and in 28% of the visits, the shoppers reported not being sure whether the nail technician had cleaned their hands or not.

What To Look For In A Nail Salon

Here are some of the things you look for when visiting a nail salon:

- Use only accredited salons and technicians and look for certifications of competency, which should be displayed prominently in the salon.

- The salon should be clean and tidy, with linen and towels changed between clients.

- All chemicals should be in clearly marked containers.

- Metal tools that could penetrate the skin should be sterilized in an autoclave.

- Non-disposable nail implements should be rinsed, scrubbed in tepid water and detergent and dried, or wiped with 70% alcohol between clients.

- Some nail salons keep implements especially set aside for each regular client. You should ask your nail technician to do this for you, if you are a regular client of a nail salon.

- Nail implements need to be clean and dry. Don't let anyone use an implement on you that's been left sitting in water, even if the water contains disinfectant.

- Don't use a foot spa if you've shaved your legs the night before or on the day of the pedicure, of if you have any cuts on your legs, as this makes you more vulnerable to infection.

- If you are having acrylic nails put on, ask your nail artist to explain the procedure, what products they're going to use and how to care for the nails at home.

- Don't be shy to ask questions about the manicure, the chemicals being used and how the implements have been cleaned.

The salon I normally go to is very professional and clean, the technicians are highly competent and certified and all procedures are explained in great detail when asked. So, I went ahead and pampered myself for almost an hour and got myself some beautiful nails (included in the manicure was a nail bath, filing and buffing and cuticle work) and a massage. Maybe next time I'll go for nail tattoos or those Tammy Taylor nails!

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