Let’s face it, yellow-tinged toenails are not a good look. While we want our fingernails and toenails to look picture perfect for the holidays, we could end up hiding those same fingers and toes later if we don’t choose a nail salon well. “Nail fungus can be picked up at nail salons, as well as the pool or the gym, but you can decrease the chances of salon-acquired infections with careful inspection,” says Dr. Jason Denton, a podiatrist with Foot Healers. He recommends looking at overall cleanliness because it reflects management philosophy. Ask the salon what their cleaning process includes. Do they spray down work stations with sterilizing solution or bleach between clients? Do they have two cold sterilizing solutions vats so that one set of tools is always in the solution for at least 10 to 15 minutes? How often do they change the solution?

    Denton says nail salons can adequately sterilize instruments one of three ways: wet sterilization solution, an autoclave like the hospitals have, or a dry sterile machine that uses ultraviolet light and heat to kill any bacteria or spores. He says not to look for a specific color of solution because different brands may produce the same product in different colors. If the salon does use a wet sterilizing solution, each nail station should have two vats. Other wise, instruments don’t stay in the solution long enough to really kill the organisms.

    He says anyone who does develop nail fungus, an ingrown toenail or other foot problem should see his or her podiatrist promptly to prevent the problem from worsening. “Particularly with immune system-compromised patients or diabetics, I should probably cut their toenails. You can go to the salon to have them painted. Some patients come to us first for their foot care and then on the salon to get pretty.”

    Podiatrist Dr. Julie Steward with the Foot and Ankle Center says her office is beginning to develop relationships with nail salons. They help salons protect themselves from contagious conditions and also refer patients back to salons they know have good hygiene standards. “We suggest our patients get their manicures and pedicures from nail technicians associated with a regulated salon. Some of our patients even take their own instruments with them to the nail salon. In any event, good communication with the nail technician is very important.”

    Steward says infections can happen if the skin gets nicked or instruments are inadequately sterilized. She recommends that if a person has an open lesion on the foot or ankle to avoid foot baths because they are very difficult to sterilize. “Even diabetics can go to a reputable nail salon for pedicure trims and polish as long as they don’t have open sores or diabetic neuropathy that causes lack of feeling in the feet. The podiatrist can trim the nails and check out the feet first to be sure. Insurance often covers that.”

    Kathy Cardwell, a cosmetologist with Studio Branca Salon Spa, agrees that cleanliness is a huge requirement for a good nail salon. She adds that because they are a training salon, their standards are at the top. “We carry hospital grade sanitizer and sterilize all our instruments in sealed packages by heat and ultraviolet light. Hospital sanitizer is run through the jets of the foot soakers.” She recommends prospective clients screen a nail salon and ask questions such as, How long have you been in business? and What additional training have you had? She says a salon should be licensed and have a formal training program. Referrals from friends are also helpful.

    Cardwell stresses that as a salon, they can’t diagnose anything, including nail fungus or in-grown toenails, but they can refer to a doctor if it looks like something they shouldn’t touch or needs treatment. Any diabetics, especially with lack of sensation or abrasions, would be referred to a physician for nail treatment. She emphasizes that in most cases, you get what you pay for. “People can’t really expect to go to a cut-rate nail salon and have top hygienic conditions. Education, equipment, and sanitizing are expensive.”