BYO Tools To Nail Salons

This week, singer-dancer and "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul testified in support of stronger regulation of nail salons in California, after battling a long and painful thumb infection she says she picked up at a Los Angeles nail salon.

Her testimony drew renewed attention to concerns that nail salon customers could leave with more than they bargained for: infections.

But The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay says avoiding nail salon-borne infections could literally be in your own hands.

She explains that infections can be caused by bacteria, fungi, yeast and even viruses.

Infections can develop in nail salons if employees don't use proper hygiene or if they use unsanitary nail implements, especially if the same implements are used on different people.

Germs can be spread into minor cuts and abrasions on the skin from surfaces, unwashed hands, and unclean implements. If the skin around a fingernail is broken, or if too much of the cuticle is cut or pushed back too far during a manicure, the cuticle can be cut or separated from the nail. Infectious agents can then get into the exposed area.

Also, if an artificial nail lifts from the natural nail at the base, it can create an opening for germs to grow between the nails.

Dermatologists recommend leaving cuticles intact.

Symptoms of an infection include pain, redness, itching, pus or discoloration. If symptoms persist or get worse, see a doctor, Senay advises: You may need an antibiotic.

Nail salons and their technicians are regulated by states, usually by a cosmetology board that has licensing requirements. Those requirements could include technician training, sterilization of implements, inspections, adequate facilities, and proper hygiene.

But not all nail salons are equal in their efforts, so customers need to be aware of potentially unsanitary conditions.

Senay says the best thing you can to do avoid infections at nail salons is to bring your own implements. Various kits and implements are inexpensive, and some nail salons will even store them for you if you ask.

The Food and Drug Administration suggests asking some precautionary questions to help you decide if a nail salon is sanitary:

  • Are both the salon and its employees licensed?
  • How are nail implements sanitized? Heat sterilization is preferable, in a special device called an autoclave. Chemical sterilization with a germicide and a fungicide is also common. If that's used, make sure implements are immersed long enough to sterilize them, meaning ten minutes or more.
  • Is there a pre-service scrub? Both the customer and the nail technician should wash their hands thoroughly with soap before nail work begins.
  • Is the facility neat and clean? You can tell a lot about sanitary salon practices from appearances.
  • Each customer should also be given a fresh bowl of soapy water to soak their nails in, as well as a new nail file.
Pedicures also put you at risk for infection, Senay points out, adding that you shouldn't shave your legs before a pedicure, because shaving can result in nicks that can let germs in.

Footbaths can harbor germs if the water isn't changed between customers, or if the footbath isn't washed after it's emptied.