Nail technician Emily Bettano’s metal clippers and tools soak in a cup of blue disinfectant on a table beside her pedicure station. After her client leaves, she empties the whirlpool foot tub, sprays it with disinfectant and scrubs hard with towels. Then she sprays down the reclining chair with another hospital-grade disinfectant. When cleanliness is not a priority at a pedicure salon, foot infections can run rampant. Spa customers can pick up toenail fungus, skin fungus, warts and even life-threatening bacterial diseases from dirty tools or foot baths.
At Spa Ni’joli in Methuen where Bettano works, for example, the nail technicians do a deep cleaning of the whirlpool tubs every night after the last client. Metal utensils that aren’t disposable are scrubbed after each client and soaked in disinfectant.
“Your utensils and your tub should be clean enough for you to eat out of,” said Spa Ni’joli nail technician Pamela Saathoff.
Barbara Battite, a nail technician at Bella Viaggio Salon & Day Spa in Windham, N.H., said that level of intense sanitation – refilling the tub, hospital-grade disinfectants, soaking the jets at the end of the day – is routine at her salon, too.
“We’re really careful about cleaning our tubs,” she said.
Interlocks Salon and Day Spa in Newburyport takes cleanliness a step further. The spa owns an autoclave, the type of sterilization chamber used in hospitals and research laboratories that cleans utensils with hot steam and pressure.
When the client sits down for a pedicure, a fresh set of sterile nippers, toenail clippers and other utensils is laid out in sealed bags, just as the instruments would be at a dentist’s office, said manager Robin Spero.
Pedicure technicians who have worked at various nail salons say this level of cleanliness is certainly not the rule everywhere.
It could be worse, said Nicole Grossi, owner of Spa Ni’joli.
Some salons don’t clean their tools very well, either, Grossi said. If the liquid is cloudy or if there’s any debris at the bottom, that means the tools were not cleaned properly.
Some nasty infections can be spread around at a salon. The experience turned her into a crusader for higher sanitation standards at salons.
Simple contact is all it takes to spread infections such as warts, toenail fungus, athlete’s foot and bacteria, said podiatrist Dr. William Edgerton, who has offices in Gloucester, Danvers and Ipswich. Certain pedicure techniques can also lead to physical problems. Ingrown toenails, for example, can develop if your toenails are shaped in a curve rather than cut straight across.
“Where people do get in trouble is if they have any kind of a health concern, especially an older person with circulatory trouble or an underlying medical problem like diabetes,” he said.
People who have poor circulation in their feet tend to be more susceptible to fungus infections, Edgerton said, and if their feet are numb as the result of a medical condition, they may not even notice the problem until it’s too late.
Saathoff said good nail technicians understand that risk and take it seriously. “Check that water before you put your feet in it,” Saathoff said. Check the drawers (in the pedicure station). If the drawers don’t look clean, then nothing in there is clean. If you go in the bathroom and it’s dirty, you know they’re not clean.”
Super-safe pedicure tips
Reputable salons go out of their way to make sure they don’t spread foot diseases among their pedicure customers. Foot baths are typically cleanest early in the day. At the very least, make sure the salon filters and cleans the foot bath between each client.
* Bring your own pedicure utensils. Emery boards, in particular, can trap germs. Don’t shave your legs right before a pedicure. Freshly shaven legs are more vulnerable to infection.
* Don’t allow a technician to use a foot razor to remove dead skin. It can cause permanent damage and spread infection. It’s much safer to use a pumice stone, foot file or exfoliating scrub.
* Don’t let a technician use sharp tools to clean under your toenails. Sharp objects could puncture the skin and increase the risk of infection. A wooden or rubber manicure stick is fine.
* Foot moisturizer is fine, but avoid leaving any moisture between the toes. Moisture between the toes can encourage athlete’s foot and other types of fungal infection.
* The technician should not cut your cuticles. Cuticles are a natural protective barrier against bacteria. * Don’t have your nails polished if there are signs of an infection, such as thickness or discoloration. Source: The American Podiatric Medical Association