12 tips for proper mani-pedis

There’s a deal on at the local salon or that cute little spa in your hotel — should you take advantage of the discounts and indulge in a little pampering? Is your favourite salon doing their best to keep its clients healthy and happy?

Manicures and pedicures have become a popular way to treat ourselves to a little luxury and many men and women even consider them a grooming essential. Unfortunately, these treatments aren’t without their risks. Bacteria and fungus spread easily from person to person through contaminated tools, not to mention the hazard of unsanitary conditions. While rare, there’s even some risk of catching illnesses like hepatitis B which are transmitted through bodily fluids.

Should you be paranoid? No, but it does pay to be careful to ensure you get the best experience for your dollars. Here’s what you need to know for a happier, healthier salon treatment.

The right salon: what to look for

A salon’s attractive price and convenient location may get you through the door, but that’s not enough to guarantee a safe and pleasant experience. Take a good look around and ask:

Is the business licensed and are staff qualified? Depending on where you’re living or travelling, most places require a special business license for the salon as well a license for staff members, following a required training and apprenticeship regime, of course. In North America, this documentation is usually issued by the state or province, and is supposed to be posted on the wall and at work stations. (If you don’t see it, ask.)

Is it clean? Make that spotless . They may be better decorated, but salons should be as sanitary as other health clinics where skin is touched and tools are used. Look for signs of cleanliness like covered trash cans, tidy surfaces, plenty of fresh towels and disposable items and sinks with running water nearby.

What policies and procedures are in place to protect clients’ health? For instance, do staff wash their hands regularly, or just rely on gloves? Are technicians allowed to wear acrylic nails and jewellery which can harbour contaminants?

How are tools and equipment cleaned? Some places only disinfect their equipment rather than sterilize it, and the chemicals may not be strong enough. Make sure the tools get at least a ten minute bath — that’s how long it takes to get the job done — and look for words like “germicidal” on the label.

Better yet, look for an autoclave — a device which sterilizes items with high pressure steam.

Are the smells too strong? No, it’s not just you — strong smells can be a sign of poor ventilation, and the fumes can make you feel unwell.

Not sure where to start with your search? Ask for recommendations from people you know, or look for online reviews from clients. Nail salon websites can also give you a glimpse into their policies and procedures.


Tips for healthier manicures and pedicures

So you’ve found the perfect spa — but there are still a few things you can do to prevent mishaps, including:

Go first thing in the morning. The early bird gets the cleanest footbath and tools. If you go later in the day, pay extra attention. Look for pipe-free foot baths (the pipes can harbour bacteria) and make sure the water is filtered and cleaned between customers. If there’s a liner in the foot bath, make sure it’s switched as well.

Bring your own stuff. Why take chances with unclean tools? The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) recommends taking your own tools to your appointment to avoid contamination. Your kit should include nail clippers, nail brushes, files and any disposable items you’ll need. You can even pack your own nail base and polish.

Use separate tools for your hands and feet. You could be the source of contamination so keep those toes and fingers separate. Besides, you’ll want the right tools for the job. Those small, curved clippers meant for hands can encourage in-grown toe nails. Get clippers that cut straight across and don’t round the edges of your toe nails.

Wash up. Your technician shouldn’t be the only one scrubbing up before you get your nails done. You will also want to be free of germs and dirt that could contaminate your treatment.

Ask for fresh. Aside from the gross-out factor, many disposables like toe separators and foot files have porous surfaces than trap germs and fungus and shouldn’t be used more than once. Ditto for towels — always make sure you get a clean one. Tools should be removed from packages or chemical baths in front of you.

Skip the foot razor and other sharp instruments. This tool can cause permanent damage or infection if too much skin is removed. Pumice stones, foot files or exfoliating scrubs are safer ways to go, according to experts.

In addition, nothing sharp should ever be used to clean under your nails because the skin beneath can easily be broken.

Say no to cuticle clippers. It’s okay to push your cuticles back from your nails, but cutting cuticles is a no-no. After all, it’s their job to keep invaders away from the nail bed.

Skip the shaving. Don’t be embarrassed about a little hair on your legs. Shaving in the 24 hours before a pedicure often leaves tiny cuts and openings that allow in bacteria.

Give your nails time off. Polishes and artificial nails are pretty but can damage your own nails. Give your nails a chance to breathe and grow chemical-free. When it comes time to take the polish off, use a non-acetone remover to avoid any damage.

Acrylic nails can also take their toll. Experts warn not to wear them for more than three months at a time, and give them a full month off in between.

Avoid cover ups. It’s tempting to hide thick, yellow nails but see your doctor before you hit the salon. The cause could be normal aging or damage from nail polish and treatments, but fungus could also be the culprit. Nail polish can lock moisture that feeds the problem. A doctor or podiatrist can help identify the cause of unsightly nails and recommend treatment.

Know when to see a doctor. Manicures and pedicures are beauty treatments only — you should see your doctor if you’re experiencing pain, sores, poor circulation or cracking skin. If you suffer from a condition that affects your hands and feet — like arthritis, plantar fasciitis or diabetes — your doctor or podiatrist can suggest ways to customize your salon experience.

Follow up on problems. If you notice any signs of trouble following your procedure — like swelling, redness, itching and oozing — have it checked out. Any problems resulting from a salon treatment should also be reported to your state or province’s regulatory board.

If you think you’ve caught a foot fungus, get it treated right away. Fungus on the skin can easily spread to nails where it’s much harder to eradicate. The longer the problem goes untreated, the harder it will be to treat.

Overall, mani-pedis should enhance your wellbeing and appearance, not detract from it. It may take a little effort to find the right place, and you may not necessarily find the lowest price, but don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak up if you see something amiss.

Sources: ABC News, About.com: Women’s Health, the American Podiatric Medical Association, Consumer Reports Health Blog, Health Canada, the Ontario Podiatric Medical Association

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Ladida

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