Sure, you want your toenails to look pretty, especially during sandal season. But any podiatrist will tell you that they see patients nearly every week with foot and toenail infections acquired at a nail salon – viral infections, warts, and athlete’s foot being the main players. Before your next pedicure, you can take a few precautions which will protect you from picking up any hitchhiking bacteria, virus, or fungus that may turn into a serious foot or toenail infection.
Don’t mess with the cuticles
Even the most experienced pedicurist will occasionally cut into the cuticles, and that’s a mistake. The cuticle helps anchor the nail to the skin, and should never be pushed back or cut during a pedicure, as that’s when bacteria may enter.
You want your toenails cut into what shape?
If toenails are cut a little too aggressively on the sides, it can lead to ingrown toenails, which as anyone who’s ever had one knows, are absolutely miserable and will certainly not match your other toenails. Pedicurists should cut the nails straight or at a slight curve, along the contour of the toenail, and not down into the corners.
Clean tools, clean surfaces
There’s a chance of acquiring fungus at a salon, too, if the owners aren’t fastidious about disinfecting surfaces and tools. Pumice and emery boards shouldn’t be used more than once, and tools should always be sterilized in between clients, preferably in an autoclave, which uses high pressure steam to kill bacteria and fungus. Non-metal tools cannot be sterilized, so if they aren’t thrown away after one use, every client that follows is at risk.
At the very least, make sure you can see the pedicure tools soaking in that blue liquid called Barbicide, which barbers have used since… well, since at least your grandfather’s first haircut. There’s a required minimum of at least a 10 minute soak in a bacteriacide, according to Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. And UV lights? Not to be trusted for sanitizing. Some salons allow you to bring your own pedicure tools, which is your best protection.
No bubbles, please
Glass bowls for soaking your feet are preferred over fiberglass or plastic – any porous material allows bacteria to hide out. Whirlpool foot baths should be verboten, as the piping feeding the baths can harbor all kinds of bacteria and fungus, which love the warm, but not too-warm temperatures.
Shaved legs and pedicures demand distance
Wait on getting a pedicure for 2 days after you shave your legs. A razor creates microtears in the skin, which bacteria can easily enter, directly introducing them into the legs. This can lead to an infection called cellulitis, which is very serious and may require hospitalization.
And some should never show up for a pedicure
If you’re diabetic, you should think twice about getting a pedicure. One of the unfortunate side effects of diabetes is that sores don’t heal quickly, especially in the feet. Persistently open wounds, even nicks, invite all kinds of bacteria to take up residence, which can lead to a nasty infection in a diabetic foot.
Other people at high risk include those with HIV, those going through chemotherapy, and those who have circulatory disorders or vascular disease. And if you already have an ingrown toenail, avoid pedicures entirely and see your podiatrist for treatment.