Dr. Dana's Top 10 Salon Safety Tips

My patients and closest friends are always asking me if I am pro mani-pedi and what nail salon is cleanest?  My answer is simple.  I believe that everyone should be able to enjoy a relaxing manicure and pedicure, after all when our hands and feet are manicured we feel put-together, in control and ready for anything.  As a dermatologist, surgeon, and mother I like to keep my nails short and clean while never compromising on style.  However, nail care MUST be done in a healthy and safe way.  I like to tell my patients that they need to take their health into their own hands.  Why?  According to NYC Public Advocate Letitia James’s policy report in September 2014:

 • When the Department of State inspected New York’s salons from 2008 to 2012, they found a majority — 56 percent — to be in violation of health and safety rules.

• Customers have been infected with hepatitis and staph infections due to unclean conditions in nail salons.

• There are no regulations governing proper ventilation in salons.

• Nearly 75 percent of nail salons in the U.S. don’t comply with standards for disinfecting nail equipment. This includes reusing nail files and failing to sanitize foot baths. The latter can cause staph infections, hepatitis and bacterial infections.

While most of us want to turn a blind eye to these statistics, it is my job and mission to educate my patients and friends so that you can continue to enjoy salon services but do so in a healthy and ultimately beautiful way.  I go to salons and you too can and should enjoy your next mani pedi. With the help of my top ten salon safety tips, you are now armed with information and ready to kick back, relax and be healthy and beautiful.


 1.  Cuticle oil dropper vs. brushCuticle oil must be dropped as opposed to brushed onto a client’s cuticles.  Cuticle oil brushes are not sanitary to use on multiple clients because oils can easily harbor organisms such as bacteria and fungus.

 2.  Emery Board – This is a one time use item and should be used on only one client and then discarded!  Porous emery boards can harbor organisms such as bacteria and fungus. 

 3.  Buffing Block – These tools can be miracle workers for buffing out superficial nail alterations or for polishing the nail to a beautiful shine but be careful that your nail technician is using the right grit for your nails!  Buffing grits vary like sandpaper grades and many of the buffers out there are meant for acrylics and not natural nails.  This is a one time use item and should be used on only one client and then discarded!  Porous buffing blocks can harbor organisms such as bacteria and fungus.

 4.  Orange Sticks – These harmless looking double sided sticks often have a sharp tip on one end that is used for cleaning under the nail and a blunt tip on the other end used for pushing back at the cuticle.  Be careful with cleaning under the nail as a sharp object under the nail can cause the nail to separate from the nail bed.  In salons these tools should be one time use only!

 5.  Toe separators – Although great for keeping your toenails from smudging your perfect pedi, these foamy devices can harbor organisms such as bacteria and fungus and should be disposed after use.

 6.  Whirlpool footbaths – I apologize in advance for this one, you are not going to like what you hear.  You should never place your feet in a salon foot spa that has jets.  It is impossible to clean in the space behind the jets and these baths are supposed to be disinfected by using a 10-minute bleach bath in between every client.  These tubs can therefore put you at risk for acquiring a bacterial or fungal infection.  In an extreme case, there was a death reported secondary to a pedicure in the state of Texas when a woman acquired a staph infection from a pedicure footbath.  Alternative options do exist.  Do not be embarrassed to ask for a plastic basin to soak your feet in.  You can also visit salons that only use basins without jets or you can always request a dry pedicure.  

 7.  Hand washing – This may sound obvious, but you might be surprised!  Your nail technician should always wash his or her hands before and after attending to you. 

 8.  Ventilation – Have you ever walked into a salon and been overwhelmed by the smell of chemicals in the air?  While there may be some of you out there like Jennifer Lawrence's character Rosalyn in American Hustle who love the smell of a really sticky top coat, salons are supposed to have special ventilation systems to ensure the health and safety of both the salon workers and the salon clients.  A super, toxic smell is never a good sign!

 9.  Pumices – We are not huge fans of these volcanic derived stones that are often used as abrasives for removing callus.  Although they can work well for callus removal, they are extremely porous, cannot be disinfected and once they become wet they become the perfect place for molds, bacteria and fungus to flourish.  Instead use a file with removable grit or a stainless steel file that can be disinfected after each use.

 10. The "foot razor" - Used to remove calluses, is illegal in many states and should be!  Salon workers are not medically trained to deal with accidental mishaps that can occur with these blades such as cuts or lacerations.  Additionally, if these blades are reused they can transfer serious infections between clients.  Protect Yourself: Use a callous solution or heel cream at home to safely break down hardened skin.  Callus can also be safely removed at the salon with a removable grit file or a stainless steel file that can be disinfected after each use.