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Watch out for unsafe nail jobs

Apr 29th, 2004

Thursday, April 29, 2004 

The Courier-Journal

If you're celebrating warm weather with a pedicure, maybe a manicure, too, remember that nail work can be dangerous.

Entertainer Paula Abdul knows. Doctors recently decided to remove her entire right thumbnail after a manicure gone awry, according to "Entertainment Tonight."

"The infection was too close to the bone. I almost lost my thumb," she exclaimed.

If you have your nails done professionally, make sure you know about the possible hazards.

"Nail cosmetics and salon services are generally quite safe, but there are four problem areas associated with the use of nail cosmetics and salon services," said Dr. Phoebe Rich, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at Oregon Health Sciences University, in a statement issued by the American Academy of Dermatology and posted on its Web site.

The four problem areas are:

  • Infection.
  • Mechanical damage to the nail.
  • Allergic reaction.
  • Irritant reaction.

To avoid them, be a keen observer and ask questions. Before you accept services at a salon:

  • Look for a proper state license posted there.

  • Make sure your operator has a state license that includes his or her photo.

  • Check for the general cleanliness of the establishment.

  • Note the cleanliness practices of the operator.

An operator should wash her hands before working on each client. She should make sure your hands or feet are washed, too, before she starts your manicure or pedicure.

She should never use tools on you that were used on a previous customer unless they have been properly disinfected. Some clients prefer to bring their own implements.

Ask about the disinfectant process. Most states, including Kentucky, require that all tools be immersed in a hospital-grade disinfectant that kills bacteria, fungi and viruses and that has been registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Any equipment that can't be disinfected — such as orange sticks, toe separators, emery boards or nail buffers — should be disposed of immediately after use.

Some clients like to get the first appointment of the day, assuming the tools are clean.

Here are some specific safety issues you should be aware of:

  • Never let your nail technician cut your cuticles or drill into your nail or nail bed.

Cutting the cuticle or puncturing the nail can create a space where bacteria or fungus can enter.

Dena Moore, executive secretary of the Kentucky State Board of Hairdressers and Cosmetologists, said drills are used in some acrylic nail work.

  • Don't expect pain. Nothing about a pedicure or manicure, including the application of acrylic nails, should be painful, Moore said. Leave if you experience pain.

  • Never allow a technician to use "credo" blades (razor callus shavers) to cut calluses from your feet. This violates the law.

  • Watch out for methyl methacrylate (MMA) compounds in acrylic nails. Three ways to detect MMA: an unusually strong or strange odor that doesn't smell like other acrylic liquids; nails so hard you can't file them; and nails that won't soak off in solvents designed to remove acrylics, according to the Nail Manufacturers Association and American Beauty Association.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings about MMA, but it is still used in some discount salons because it costs much less than safer acrylic products.

    The compounds can cause skin reactions, and frequent exposure can cause respiratory problems. They also bond so tightly that the natural nail can be damaged.

  • Don't shave your legs before a pedicure. Nicks and cuts can be entry points for possible infection. Although the risk is rare, the possible infections include HIV, hepatitis B and C, and warts.

    In one unusual and extreme case, there was an outbreak of mycobacterium fortuitum infection at a salon in California.

    The New England Journal of Medicine reported in 2000 that all the women who got the infection, which caused boils on their legs, had used footbaths.

  • Ask about footbath cleaning practices. Experts say that footbaths must be disinfected between clients and intake filters must be removed, cleaned and disinfected once a week.

    "Even though the bath may seem clean, if bacteria is in the jets it can be transmitted to you," said Moore.

To report nail salons
Report unlicensed nail salons or problems at nail salons to:

The federal government advises doctors, consumers and technicians to
report any adverse reactions from nail products to the nearest office of the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

For additional information from the FDA on nail salon services and products, go to

Filed under: Health


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