Nail Salons: Do's and Dont's

Summer is nearly upon us. For some, that means beach days, no school (sniffle/tear), ice cream, and open toed sandals. Pedicures and pretty nails can be a big part of the equation. And gnarly diseases can follow.

We’ve all seen the news reports about (insert random name here) who had a pedicure at (insert random nail salon here) and got (insert bacterial or fungal infection here). Then they show pictures of her (insert infection name here) and give a stern warning about choosing a safe salon. If you’re like me, you immediately shrug and ignore this sound advice, assuming that ‘it won’t happen to me’.

But what makes a nail salon safe? Can you tell by looking at it? Clean floor, equipment looks clean, staff is nice. Must be okay, right?

Wrong. There is so much more than meets the eye, and in order to protect yourself, keep the following nail salon do’s and don’ts in mind.


Do ask the staff if they use an autoclave. An autoclave looks kinda like a toaster oven, and it’s used to sterilize nail tools. My personal rule for nail salons that want my business is no autoclave = no Jyll.

Do make sure that they disinfect the pedicure tub between each customer! Usually it takes 10 minutes for the disinfectant to work.  Have you ever been to a nail salon on a busy Saturday morning when there’s a line for pedicures, and the staff is dumping bleach into the tubs and having people put their feet straight in after another person leaves? Yeah, me too. And the fact that I didn’t get dermatitis, boils, or fungus is just pure luck.

Do bring your own tools. If you are hardcore (like me), or paranoid (like me), or seriously concerned about contracting a disease but still too lazy to do your own pedi at home (like…me?), bring your own pedicure tools. That way, you don’t have to worry about the possibility of the busy technician forgetting to use the autoclave or just exactly what gross pair of feet the tools were working on before. You can get a pedicure kit for $5 or less at any drugstore, or online. Yes, the staff might roll their eyes when you insist on using your own tools. But it sure beats getting an infection.

Do make sure that the technician changes his/her gloves between each client! Or that they thoroughly wash their hands (soap, water, scrubby scrub). Using the same pair of gloves a) defeats the purpose of wearing gloves in the first place and b) greatly increases your risk of a big fat antibiotic resistant staph infection.

Do research your nail salon and find a safe one in your neighborhood. My method of choice is to look up nail places on Yelp and enter ‘autoclave’ in the search box. It’s no guarantee that the salon is 100% safe, but it does make it easier!


Don’t have a pedicure or manicure if you have any open wounds. Open wounds = disease. Nothing that has scabbed over, either. This includes little knicks from shaving and that little blister on the back of your heel.

Don’t shave or wax before your pedi, or the day of.

Don’t let them cut your cuticles. That barrier makes it much easier for bacteria and fungi to enter your system. If you have brought your own tools, you can be less paranoid about this one.

Don’t let them use an (illegal) razor to remove calluses on your feet. A pumice stone or foot file is about as harsh as they can get. Razors are illegal in California nail salons because if used incorrectly (which is easy to do), they can permanently damage your feet, or cause serious cuts in which very serious diseases can enter your body.

Don't get athlete's foot. Good advice, you might say. But how, you might ask. Why, by making sure that the technician uses a new pumice stone for each client. Or by bringing your own tools. Yes, it is mildly dorky. So are plantar warts.

Do your own tools! Pedicure tools are cheap, nail polish is easy to find, and saving a few bucks never hurt anyone. My beloved Aunt Tabitha swears by taking a Saturday morning all to herself and doing her own pedicure. I, of course, do not, and regularly risk life and limb because of it. If you are going to go to the salon, be safe, do your homework, bring your tools, and have a safe time!