mani pedi cooties
August 5, 2018 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Should customers at nail salons worry about germs on manicure tools?

I don't get manicures or pedicures often and would like to incorporate them more into my routine as I love how much more put together I feel. But what prevents me is that I'm always concerned about how clean things are -- the thing they use on my cuticles, the motored round thing used to smooth the surface of my nails, and nail scissors. I like to get tips for my nails, which are permanently pitted and look much better with acrylic or powder dipped tips. This entails the manicurist filing down, motor-smoothing and cutting my nails.

If you read anything about salon safety you are told to "ask if they sterilize tools" and "leave if it looks dirty." Well, I have never been in a place that looked really clean beneath the surface, where they changed the towel under my hands before I start, or really seemed to have actually sterilized tools. When I asked last time, the technician laughed and said the tool "doesn't touch blood." Then she cut me by mistake while trimming my nail and said "oops." Another time I asked about their tool sterilizing and she said she would "get the sterilized one" and put down the one she was using. She then got a tool from a jar with a little bit of blue liquid in the bottom and a whole lot of tools sticking up above the liquid line.

Obviously this isn't a surgical theater. No one else in there seemed to look or care. It was a normal place, yelp called it the best one in the very fancy suburban town where I was visiting. The manicurists obviously wondered what was wrong with me that I even asked about this and (good naturedly) teased me a little.

I am now in my own city. I want to get my breaking tips removed and replaced. I just have no idea what's reasonable to worry about, what's overkill and paranoid, and how much denial of germ risk is simply a tacit agreement among most customers.
So: I *don't* need links to the horrors of nail salon germs. I know allll about that. What I do need: how do normal, non-anxious, regular salon-goers handle salon hygiene? Do you ask about it? Ignore it? Eyeball it? If you see a less than sanitary practice do you really leave in the middle?
ALSO: I do have bitten cuticles, small cuts and other ways for germs to enter my skin.
posted by nantucket to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can totally bring your own manicure kit. In my experience (20 years of regular manicures and pedicures), I don't see it that often though.

Ask around for salons people like. Read reviews. Put trust in longer standing salons.
This is a thing in life where having a regular spot is a really good idea. I really don't like having to go to a place out of town or that I haven't vetted. Relationships matter here. Tip well early on.
For me, the sweet spot are Vietnamese-owned places with a strong female owner who is invested in her business long term. If I cannot figure out the owner within minutes of being in the salon, I don't like that. I prefer places that have 5-7 regular employees that seem stable and are treated well by the owner. I don't need the place to be fancy, but generally tidy is good.
Fwiw, the only time I got an infection was from a fancy high end salon with white employees. I've been cut more often by more rural Vietnamese owned salons than I have in cities.

You also might want to read about the laws about sanitizing. I've heard this a lot from my friends that work in skin care or hair - people *think* they know how things are supposed to work (when people should wear gloves, for example), but most people are wrong. If you understand why some things are done, that should help you feel better about hygiene.
posted by k8t at 9:49 PM on August 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would not continue to patronize a place that cut me and laughed when I asked about sterility.

My place takes tools out of individually sealed packets for each client. I’m not sure what they do before sealing the tools in the packets.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 10:54 PM on August 5, 2018 [13 favorites]

It should be clear what they do or don’t do. Specifically, you should be able to see evidence of clean tools being used on each client. The used tools should be cleared away with the towel etc from the previous client. As they get the work station ready for you they should be getting out a clean set of tools. This should include heads for electronic tools. You should also be able to see that the foot spas get cleaned between customers etc. If your salon doesn’t do that don’t go back. If you’re waiting to be seen and you see they don’t do this walk out.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:08 PM on August 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

Individually sealed tools, opened up new for each new mani/pedi. Agreed with the Vietnamese-owned places with strong female owners, but that's a more CA centric thing. Places don't have to be spotless, but yeah, fresh tools each time is an absolute MUST- I would straight up leave if I didn't see them open up a new one. I have a local place, named after Cindy- Who Cindy was- obvious in 5 seconds. She has her staff- and her husband who also does nails- they are busy always, not always stuffed, but always someone from the neighborhood in there. If you see a place, check reviews, but more importantly look inside a few times at different times/days- are they busy- are they're men as well as women- are they locals- etc etc. Once you see a place that's got regulars, its a good bet.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:10 PM on August 5, 2018

First off, a question is how at risk are you?

If your an average healthy adult with no immune system problems and don't have difficulty healing in case of injury to your hands or feet, even if things aren't perfect you are likely just fine.

Even if you were cut (which isn't that likely) AND that cut got infected (even less likely) or you aquired a fungus or whatever, a simple doctors appointment would fix 99 percent of those problems.

That being said, of course you want the place to be clean, and for you to be respected. So, feel free to ask, but also relax. I eyeball it and if there is something that seems off I ask or request that my preference (can you sanatize this, change gloves, whatever) be honored.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:14 PM on August 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

I'd be more worried about pedicures than manicures, TBH. Those whirlpool chairs are full of impossible to sanitize parts that could leave you with a nasty case of athlete's foot or plantar warts - ASK ME HOW I KNOW. If you're getting a pedi find a place that either uses a simple, sanitizable basin or sink rather than a whirlpool.
posted by nerdfish at 12:18 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Generally, things in packets means they've been in an autoclave which makes them medically sterile. Disinfecting usually involves it hanging out in some kind of disinfectant liquid for a bit, which is probably sufficient for most situations. I believe UV sterilisers are also used, which in theory should work fine because UV kills bacteria if it's exposed for long enough, but it won't get into nooks and crannies and if done poorly, would be basically useless. You want to make sure they're storing things properly too, like not sticking things back in drawers after they are used and putting them to the side instead etc. If they aren't doing the right things, they probably aren't going to tell the truth when you ask, so I believe it's better to observe. Turn up a bit early, watch them for a while.

I'd probably go for a place that autoclaves, because as long as it's still in the little packet, it's sterile. Echoing others in that you should check what is legally required where you live.
posted by BeeJiddy at 12:48 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

"Do you use an autoclave? Can I see it?"

The answer to both of those questions should be yes.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:28 AM on August 6, 2018 [6 favorites]

Most places I get my nails done is by no stretch super clean but two things I always look for and expect 1. Autoclave tool packs and 2. Plastic liners of some kind for the foot baths.

I have very low standards but I would not be into the place you described.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:48 AM on August 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't go to any of the places you mentioned - they sound dirty and awful! Cleanliness is important, especially for pedicures, but for manicures too. Agree with everyone who mentioned individually sealed tool packs per customer. And cleaning foot basins between pedicures - you can get so many nasty foot things from previous customers. Cleanliness should be a big deal to the staff and they should understand its importance and why you care about it.
posted by sunflower16 at 5:14 AM on August 6, 2018

Look for Yelp reviews -- I've found the ones in my city to be extremely accurate for nail salons because it's a much more consistent experience customer-to-customer than other business types.

I would not frequent a salon that cut me, that didn't sterilize their tools, or that looked dirty. The places I go all do simple things like scrub out the soaking tub immediately after use, keep tools in sterilized liquid or use a sterilizing system, use dedicated/disposable items, etc.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:59 AM on August 6, 2018

In addition to the above (and even the low-end places these days are using autoclaves around me), in many states, salons are inspected by the health department. Where I live, the health department certificate is generally posted either in the front window or right above the check-in desk. They also tend to be licensed by your state's department of occupational regulation (whatever that's called for you), and you can look that up online. I'd look up your state's licensing and inspection procedures for nail salons. I always look at the health department grade and I'm not super-interested in using a salon that's below an "A" because there are plenty of A-grade salons I can go to! (You can also typically look online and see a list of what the violations were, which is interesting and instructive!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:59 AM on August 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think there is some helpful advice here but I also want to second Nantucket's experience. I am not a frequent manicure patron, but in NYC, even when I looked at Yelp reviews ahead time and even when I chose (what I thought was) a fancier place, I don't think I've ever seen the sterilized packets more than once (and come to think of it, I think that was outside of NYC).

I often wonder what I'm doing wrong in selecting my nail salons, because I've seen most of the above advice before but have never encountered it in real life.
posted by CiaoMela at 7:13 AM on August 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yes, I would be concerned about this. You can call the licensing board and ask what the standards are. You can ask if they track complaints and ask about the results of inspection. The idea of bringing your own tools is a good one. It might not make friends, but you can ask the manicurist to wash their hands, still a critical component of safety.
posted by theora55 at 7:50 AM on August 6, 2018

What I do need: how do normal, non-anxious, regular salon-goers handle salon hygiene?

I'm on the anxious side, but not usually about hygiene stuff, so hopefully this helps a little. I do not ask about the salon's cleaning/hygiene practices (I'm not good at that type of social interaction) and I have never left in the middle of an appointment (even though I've wanted to once or twice).

FWIW, I've sworn off pedicures altogether after getting toenail fungus twice(!!!) from them. It seems that even the cleanest places can't protect you entirely from other people's nasty-ass feet, so it's safest to just avoid them. I think manicures are pretty low-risk for most people. Seriously: I don't use communal showers, wear breathable shoes/socks, and have no other fungus risk factors. And yet, in both 2011 and 2016, I found myself with fungus following a pedicure. So disgusting. :(
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:52 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I get my nails done at one of those Aveda day spas that does massages and haircuts and everything. (So, not just Nailz Xpress or one of those) it costs more, but they have more than one autoclave, are always getting fresh towels out, throw out Emery boards after one use, and scrub down the foot bath immediately after they drain it. So far no infections.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:26 AM on August 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

"but in NYC, even when I looked at Yelp reviews ahead time and even when I chose (what I thought was) a fancier place, I don't think I've ever seen the sterilized packets more than once (and come to think of it, I think that was outside of NYC). I often wonder what I'm doing wrong in selecting my nail salons, because I've seen most of the above advice before but have never encountered it in real life."

NYC is its whole own world for nail salons -- the NYT has done reporting on it, as have some of the big NYC-based fashion mags -- but basically it's so hypercompetitive and the margins so insanely slim in NYC that, yeah, most places cut out the sterilization process to save a few pennies. Outside NYC is not so cutthroat.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:45 AM on August 6, 2018

I haven't been in a couple years but the NYC nail chains Bloomie Nails and Spa Belles used to be very good and clean.
posted by sunflower16 at 12:29 AM on August 7, 2018

So I like the way my nails looked when I got them powder dipped, but what i found in doing that is that the cost and minor skeeve factor kept me from making it a regular thing. Most of the places i went opened a fresh autoclaved pack, but only for the metal tools like the cuticle trimmers and cuticle pusher thing. The dremmel heads were not in fresh packs so to me that seemed like it could negate any germ spread prevention done by the autoclaving. I still get them done occasionally, though, because though I perceived some risk, I have not had an issue and the reviews of the place i go don't have anyone mentioning an issue with infection or fungus.

I don't like people touching my feet so I can't help you there, but I do recommend those quickie massages in the face forward chairs if your salon offers them.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:18 PM on August 7, 2018

the only time i have ever had a problem is when they filed my bunion like it was a callous and i didn't speak up because i didn't want that person. it was a kinda deep wound, and it got really infected and it sucked.

i have been getting pedis for over 20 years, and while i know all the sterilization and cleanliness advice, i have almost NEVER seen these things in real life. sometimes they bring a tray of tools out of a "uv light machine" thing, not an autoclave. sometimes they open a new pumice stone for every pedicure.

i would prefer a foot bath with a replaceable liner but i have only ever seen that once, in miami. i do see them clean the foot baths between every customer tho. how well they clean it or how effective it is is a different question.

as with everything it's a question of the risks outweighing the benefits. most healthy people will never have a problem or get an infection.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:31 AM on August 8, 2018

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