How to Protect Yourself at Nail Salons

ABC News' Becky Worley reports:

I love a good pedicure. But I have no idea what I'm looking for to make sure that pedicure doesn't give me a nasty infection. Our friends at ABC News' "20/20? went undercover to see how unsanitary some salons can be and the results scared me into learning how to protect myself.

I bring DeeDee Crossett of the San Francisco Institute of Esthetics and Cosmetology to my favorite salon in Oakland, Calif. Big-picture advice: Crossett says it's hard to know whether a place is unhygienic; it's much easier to look for signs that it is immaculate. Here are her tips to spot a super-clean salon.

Tip 1: Arrive 10 minutes early. You only need that much time to watch what happens between guests. Once a pedicure is done, Crossett says, disinfectant goes into the tub water and it must be circulated for a full 10 minutes before it's drained. Less than 10 minutes and the chemicals in the disinfectant can't break down bacteria and sanitize the foot bath. Also, she says, it takes time to remove tools, take them into the back to be cleaned and get a new sterilized set of tools.

Tip 2: Look for licenses. Each nail tech should have a license. Ask who will be performing your mani-pedi and look for their names on the wall of licenses. If they aren't licensed, there's no guarantee they know what's allowed and what's not within the sanctioned health guidelines for nail techs.

Tip 3: Each guest should receive a new file and buffer. These items cannot be sanitized and should be used one time only. A dead giveaway is if there is white powder (someone else's nail filings or sloughed skin) on the file or buffer or if they are inside of the "sanitized" pouch tools often come in. If the file or buffer were sanitized in an autoclave, the hot steam would destroy the pumice.

Tip 4: If you aren't sure about the cleanliness but you don't want to walk out, don't let the nail tech turn on the jets in the foot spa. Many of the bacteria are in the jets and plumbing. The exterior bowl may have been wiped down with a sanitizer. In that case, the sitting water may be fine but if it is circulated into the jets and pipes, there's a greater chance of circulating bacteria.

Tip 5: If they are using a Barbicide blue liquid sanitizer for tools, it should be clear, blue and jewel toned. If it is cloudy or green, it needs to be replaced. Also, tools should not be just dipped into the sanitizer; they need to soak for a full 10 minutes to be sufficiently cleaned.

Tip 6: Come to the salon with stubble. Don't shave before you go get a pedicure. Your shaver could make tiny nicks or cuts in the skin that let in bacteria. The nail techs are fine with a little stubble. Shave after the pedicure.

Tip 7: A cheap manicure could come at a price. If a salon is offering a $6 manicure, they are likely taking shortcuts somewhere. In order to ensure your safety and that the nail tech is making a living wage, go someplace that charges the going rate for your neighborhood. My favorite place, Isabella Nail Bar in Oakland, California, charges $25 for a pedicure and it's some of the best money I spend all month. And yes, it passed Crossett's inspection with flying colors.

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