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Getting A Safe Manicure

Every girl likes a little nail polish. In fact, a manicure can be an easy way to give yourself a boost.

But if you're going to a salon to have it done, you need to be sure you won't walk out with more than you bargained for, like an infection.

"American Idol"'s Paula Abdul made headlines earlier this year when an infection from a bad manicure caused her to lose her thumbnail.

Allure magazine's editor-in-chief, Linda Wells, visits The Early Show on Tuesday to offer some tips on how you can prevent that from happening to you. Also, she will talk about the latest trends in length, shapes and colors for fall.

Tips for getting a clean, safe, and great manicure or pedicure:

Play health inspector:

  • The old trick of looking in the bathroom and the kitchen before ordering a meal in a restaurant is the same for nails. Make sure the spa is spotless and look for an autoclave, which is a heat sterilizer that looks like an ice cream machine with a blue light inside.
  • Tools that have been heated in an autoclave are best; tools that have been soaking in clear anti-bacterial solution are probably clean; a cloudy solution is a tip-off that it needs to be changed.
  • Don't be shy or embarrassed about asking if tools are sterilized or if they have been soaked in antiseptic. If your manicurist drops a tool on floor, ask her to resterilize.
  • Look for individually wrapped instruments like those found in a doctor's office and see that they are unwrapped in front of you, or better yet, bring your own each time. Some salons will store them for you.

Manicure/Pedicure Kits:
  • You can purchase kits from Revlon, Sally Hansen, Barielle, and La Cross that are easy to toss in your bag. Buy your own file with Revlon and La Cross kits because they come with metal files, which aren't good for nails. Also, sometimes the files in kits are too short; a file only costs $1.
    Revlon Manicure Kit, $5.15: File, nail clippers, cuticle pusher
    Sally Hansen kit in bag $32: File, buffer, cuticle pusher, cuticle nipper, nail clippers
    La Cross Nail Kit, $4.25: cuticle pusher, nail clippers, scissors
    Barielle Manicure/Pedicure Kit, $30: Cuticle cream, buffer, nippers, cuticle pushers, nail oil, file, nail brush, toe separator

The gold standard of kits that you can assemble yourself includes a Diamancel foot buffer and file and Tweezerman cuticle nippers, pushers, and nail clippers

The technician should wash his or her hands and use fresh towels. Your hands and/or feet should be washed or swabbed with an anti-bacterial solution, too. Some dermatologists even warn that bottles of nail polish can harbor germs from a variety of clients. The polish should go up to the cuticle but never touch the skin.

If the manicurist reaches for the clippers then you know you are in trouble. So ask to file your nails instead.

If you have hangnails, ask the manicurist to trim them, but stay away from the cuticle. The cuticle protects bacteria from entering nail and skin, so ask the manicurist to push them back instead of cutting. If you can't get to a manicurist, moisten the area with lotion or cream and then gently clip the hangnail off, but never close to the skin.

French manicures are out. For fingers, pale pink is always sophisticated. Try Mademoiselle by Essie or Willowy by Lancome. Avoid colors that look too chalky, too white or too flat, like beige.

The other classic is a true, blue-based red for fingers and toes. It's seasonless and looks right on everyone. Try A-List by Essie or Red Caviar by Maybelline.

For a fall look, use metallic shades of gold and bronze like Moxie by Rescue or Trust Fund by Creative, or try a beige with a touch of shimmer, like Embrace by OPI. Also big this season are dark, chocolatey reds like Koala by Chanel, or deep raspberry colors like M. Butterfly by NARS.

M.A.C. has added a controlled-release polymer to its polish for a long-term gloss and so-called "plasticizers" that allow the lacquer to flex on the nail, minimizing chips. Revlon researchers were inspired by the way car paint bonds to metal and set out to duplicate that effect with Revlon ColorStay Always on Nail Enamel. They came up with a flexible, crack-resistant acrylic polymer that bonds to keratin of nail (which is why you can't use a base coat with this polish).

Allure found the color remained chip-free for 12 days and still looked fresh and shiny.

Aim for perfection:

  • Be specific about the length you want: short and visible over the tips of the fingers. An oval or "squoval" shape (square with rounded edges) is foolproof and looks the most natural and modern.
  • Before polish is applied, make sure your nails are swabbed with remover to take off the hand lotion and any oil residue. That's the only way the polish will last.
  • Patience is a virtue: To expedite your drying time, dip wet fingernails in ice water for a minute or so. The cold water works to constrict and harden the polish. To minimize your pedicure drying time somewhat, you can use a fast-drying polish or leave the topcoat application for the following day. In the winter, when it's a matter of socks versus frostbite, put on a coat of oil after an hour of drying and wrap your toes in Saran Wrap.

Keeping the color:
  • At the salon, have your wallet and car keys out and your jacket on before your nails are painted.
  • Let polish dry thoroughly for 20 minutes.
  • Avoid fast-drying topcoats because while it dries the polish quicker, it tends to make polish more prone to chipping because it seals the outermost layer before the rest of the layers dry naturally.
  • After nails are somewhat dry, apply a drop of oil to each nail.
  • Apply a topcoat every two days.
  • Wear gloves when washing the dishes.
  • Moisturize every time hands get wet.
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