March 7, 2014 -- intro: When it comes to nail salons, it's not just about the glitter and polish. Before you make that next trip to get a manicure or pedicure, heed this advice from industry insider Athena Elliott.
"There is a lot of money to be made out there. And unfortunately, there is a lot of money to be made, at your cost," Elliott told ABC News' "20/20."
Elliott has been a nail technician for 34 years. After realizing how many of her peers ignored the industry's sanitation protocol, she said she wants to expose the habitual horrors that put customer safety and health at risk. So every week, Elliott goes undercover and reviews salons' cleanliness for her website, safesalonrating.com.
"What [customers] don't realize is that there is ... really danger lurking everywhere," Elliott said. "The potential for infection is greater than people realize."
Here are some of Elliott's tips for what to look for in a nail salon.
quicklist: 1 title: 1. Communicate With Your Technician, Do Some Research Online text: “Are you communicating with your nail technician? Are they not listening to you?" Elliott said. "There is more to having a good service than just picking out your nail color. If you can’t communicate, chances are you won’t be happy with your service. Miscommunication is a primary cause of nail salon infections and lawsuits from infections.”
Check if the salon has an Internet presence, reviews and if you can find out anything about the salon's protocol.
quicklist: 2 title: 2. Ask How They Disinfect Their Tools text: When visiting a salon, learn more about how the salon disinfects their tools.
"Do they use the state's protocol with liquid disinfection, or do they use an autoclave to sterilize their implements?" Elliott said. These are both acceptable and what you should look for in a safe salon. An autoclave, according to Elliott, uses steam and pressure to kill all living pathogens.
Don't be afraid to say, "Can you show me how you disinfect your pedicure chairs? Can you show me your cleaning log? Are you using single-use files on me?" said Elliott.
quicklist: 3 title: 3. Are the Technicians Wearing Gloves? text: A good sign is a technician wearing gloves. A survey by NAILS magazine revealed only 17% of nail techs wear them regularly.
According to Elliot, gloves can help reduce the transfer of bacteria to a client.
quicklist: 4 title: 4. Is the Floor Dirty? text: Check out the salon's floor, and make sure it's clean.
"Because if there are scattered clippings from people's toenails and fingernails, as if I am the 20th client of the day, that's the first thing that's going to turn me off," Elliott said. "You should be cleaning up, after every service."
quicklist: 5 title: 5. Inspect the Bathroom text: "If you walk into a salon and the restroom is not as clean as you like your restroom to be at home, you should take that as a sign," Elliott said.
quicklist: 6 title: 6. Are They Reusing Dirty Tools? text: Watch where the salon employees pull their tools from.
"Are they tools that have already been disinfected and that you can tell, or are they being pulled out of a kitchen, you know, out of your drawer?" Elliott said.
Depending on the state's laws, some tools may be single-use items. Be sure to check your state's cosmetology rules and regulations to know what tools are approved or banned and how they should be cleaned.
quicklist: 7 title: 7. Know What Chemicals They Use text: You should always know what the chemical is that they're using on you, Elliott said.
"It should always have a clear, defined label," said Elliott.
quicklist: 8 title: 8. You Shouldn't Be in Pain text: Pain is absolutely a red flag for Elliott.
"It's about going to a place that makes you feel comfortable about the service that you are having," Elliott said. "And if you are met with that kind of resistance, you need to search [for] another salon."
quicklist: 9 title: 9. Take This Precaution Before Your Next Pedicure text: Never shave before going to the nail salon.
"It's a portal of entry for the bacteria to go in," Elliot said.