It’s summertime! And, if you’re going to let those feet loose on the world, you’re going to need a good pedicure.

Pedicures are often categorized as an extravagance. But just as you get your hair cut, or your eyebrows tidied, your feet also need a bit of a clean up from time to time. Just think of what you put them through: sweaty socks, cramped confines, hard surfaces, and all that weight-bearing activity. Yet they rarely get any TLC, and the clippers tend to only come out once you cut yourself on a razor-sharp toenail. Imagine if you treated your face that way?

So, now that you’re headed to the nail salon ladies and gents, what can you expect? Are pedicures safe? We’ve all heard a horror story or two about a friend of a friend who picked up a nasty infection from a pedicure. How can you guarantee a safe pedicure?

1. Look For A License

In order to operate, a nail salon should be following strict cleanliness and disinfection guidelines. They must also have a license. To get a license, nail technicians aren’t required to only be skillful. They must undergo specific training in safety standards which includes being able to identify bacterial and fungal infections. Knowing how to identify an infection prevents that infection being passed around a salon to other clients.

2. Are The Foot Baths Super Clean?

Pedicure | DermalMedixFoot baths are a key way in which bacteria and fungus can be passed around. Do the foot baths at the nail salon appear clean? Do the technicians disinfect them between customers? Don’t be afraid to ask. Some salons use a disposable plastic liner for each new client, which is the most ideal thing to do.

As luxurious as water jets sound, the actual jets in a “whirlpool” foot bath can’t be easily cleaned, so they could be harboring bacteria. Ideally, choose a salon that has pipeless foot baths, or one that uses those disposable liners.

3. Are The Tools Sanitary?

Alongside foot baths, tools are the other great harborer of nasty bacteria. Just like a dentist, a nail salon should be sterilizing all of its tools. Most often, you’ll see either a blue disinfecting solution used to wipe the individual tools clean or an autoclave machine (a kind of sterilizing machine).

But both of these options can only be used on metal tools, so if your salon is using wooden or rubber tools (like cuticle sticks, wooden emery boards or nail buffers) they should be brand new each time.

Don’t be afraid to ask the technicians at the salon how they clean their tools.

Or, as recommended by many dermatologists and podiatrists, bring along your own tools. This practice may not be okay at some salons, so you’ll need to ask first.1 The technicians should also be washing their hands thoroughly between clients.

But what about nail polish? Can using the same polish on different clients spread fungus or other nasties? The short answer is no. The chemicals in nail polish usually prevent the spread of fungus, so don’t be concerned. If you wish, you can always bring your own polish from home, though. 2

4. Exfoliation and Razors

Pedicure | DermalMedixMany people enjoy getting their calluses removed at the nail salon. A pumice stone is usually used to begin with, with salons often offering (for an added price) a foot razor, or something similar, to better remove excess skin. But, not only do doctors advise that you should stop at the pumice stone when trying to smooth those rough patches, callus removal using any kind of blade or tool is actually banned in many states.3,4

Because it involves cutting the skin, a foot razor can easily allow bacteria to get into your feet. This is particularly true if you get a small nick on your skin from an overzealous technician.5

You should also avoid shaving or waxing your legs until after you have nice feet (or do so at least 24 hours before your pedicure), because those tiny nicks and abrasions can also allow bacteria and fungus in.

5. Say “No” To Cutting Cuticles

In most states, cuticle cutting is only allowed with those little cuticle nippers, if at all. But even then, you may want to skip this part of a pedicure.

Specialists agree that cuticles don’t need to be, and should not be, cut by a nail technician. They also believe that they shouldn’t even be forcefully pushed back. The cuticle is a protective barrier for your nail, and breaking it can easily allow bacteria and fungus in.6

The best thing you can do regarding your cuticles is to push them back gently yourself after a bath or shower. Then they’ll be in great condition before you hit the nail salon.

Pedicure | DermalMedix6. Remember Your Own Foot Health

Aside from the fact that you should never dream of entering a nail salon if you’re suffering from a fungal or bacterial infection, there are some other medical conditions that should also be considered.

For example, if you have diabetes, you should talk to your podiatrist before you book a pedicure. For some people, the risk of complications from an infection could be too great. If you need extra help to remove thick skin, or to shape curved nails, you can easily have this taken care of at your podiatrist’s office.7

Some Final Thoughts

Reading about all the scary things that could happen at a nail salon might make you never want to get a pedicure again. But you can still get the safe pampering you need if you stay smart. This, of course, starts by choosing a salon that you trust… one that displays a high level of detail to cleanliness.

Also, try to go to the salon early in the day for your pedicure. The instruments will be at their cleanest then. And make sure your technician cuts your toenails straight across in a square-shape. A curve-shape can promote ingrown toenails.

You may also want to skip those nail gels (at least frequent ones), as research has indicated that many of the curing lamps emit UV light that’s four times stronger than the sun.8

In the days, and even weeks, following a pedicure, be aware of any unusual foot rashes, discolored toenails, soreness, or even pus. And if you note anything unusual, get to a doctor as soon as possible.

Now, go enjoy that pedicure, it’s sandal season!

Learn More:
A Guy Pedicure Guide (yes, you CAN have a manly pedi!)
What That Itchy Foot Rash May Be Telling You
Solid Solutions for Dealing with Diabetic Foot Pain


Sources
1.https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/nail-care/manicure-safety
2.http://www.cleartoesclinic.com/blog/2013/10/02/blog20131002can-toenail-fungus-spread-through-nail-polish
3. https://www.drjefflamour.com/blog/tips-for-a-safe-pedicure
4.http://files.nailsmag.com/Handouts/NAILSbb10-11statebrd.pdf
5.https://www.everydayhealth.com/foot-health/pedicure-safety-tips.aspx
6.https://www.seattlefootdoctor.com/blog/2014/august/5-tips-for-staying-safe-when-you-get-a-pedicure/
7.http://web.diabetes.org/forecast/nov06/pedicure.pdf
8. https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(13)00906-7/fulltext

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About the Author

Dr. David Watts

Dr. David Watts is a world-famous plastic surgeon working at Johns Hopkins Medical School. He also spent 16 years in the Army Reserve, reaching the rank of Major, and is blessed to have helped thousands of our nation’s soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.