Avoid a pedicure nightmare: How to stay safe at the nail salon

Nadine Kalinauskas
Shine On
Protect yourself when getting a pedicure. (Thinkstock)

Thanks to some late-summer heat, we’re stretching out open-toe season as long as we can. 

But this scary story is making us think twice about pedicure safety. 

A Toronto woman ended up in the hospital with a serious infection that required intravenous treatment just hours after getting a pedicure at a salon in the city’s west end. 

Kristine Galka tells CTV Toronto that a nail technician accidentally punctured her left foot with a pumice stone as Galka soaked her feet in a foot bath. 

The technician bandaged up the wound and Galka left the salon, assuming the wound would quickly heal. 

She was wrong. 

That evening, she ended up at St. Joseph’s Health Centre with concerns for her swollen throbbing foot. She was put on antibiotics. When it got worse, she returned to the hospital and was put on IV medication.

Three weeks later, Galka’s foot still hasn’t healed and is in rough shape. She anticipates seeing a plastic surgeon to repair her left heel once the wound finally heals. 

"These nail salons are like a revolving door. One person sits down, the next person gets up, another one sits down. How are they managing to keep this clean when people are moving out so quickly?" Galka tells CTV Toronto

The nail salon in question was investigated by Toronto Public Health shortly after the incident. It received a conditional pass due to cleanliness issues. Since Galka’s ordeal, the salon reevaluated its cleaning procedure. It now has a full pass from Toronto Public Health. 

While not all infections are preventable, there are 10 things a customer can do to guard against them at the nail salon. 

1. Make sure the salon has a license. 

2. In Toronto, look up the salon on bodysafe.ca, a city-run site providing inspection information on hair salons, tattoo parlours, piercing studios and nail salons. 

3. Ask the technician to use new, single-use files and buffers on your nails. 

4. Be aware. Arrive early enough to watch how foot spas are cleaned between customers. If they’re not disinfected between each person, leave. 

5. Just ask. A salon worker should be able to tell you how their foot spas are cleaned and maintained. 

6. Check yourself. It’s not safe to use a foot spa if you have any broken skin, so check for cuts, scabs, bug bites and scratches before you show up for your pedicure. It’s best not to use any hair-removal treatment — waxing, shaving or depilatories — in the 24 hours before. 

7. Say “no” to cuticle sticks. 

According to Self magazine: 

Say no to cuticle manipulation; this is another hotspot for infection, either from bacteria in the water or from ingrown toenails that can occur after the fact. And sorry, but bringing your own tools won’t do much to reduce your risk: Even if the equipment is sterile, it’s the actual act of pushing back and cutting the skin that puts you in danger.”

8. Consider bringing your own stuff. If you’re concerned that the salon might not be sterilizing every tool between uses — and how do you clean a pumice stone, exactly? — bring your own instruments with you. 

“For any type of instrument that cannot be sterilized, it is especially important to bring your own stuff to the salon, such as pumice stones or the wooden sticks for your cuticles, nail files, nail buffers, foot files. Any of that stuff should be your own, that no one else uses,” Joseph Stern, president of the Canadian Podiatric Medical Association, tells the Toronto Star. 

9. Schedule a pedicure during less busy times. The salon will likely stay on top of their cleaning practices when it’s not a zoo inside. A weekday morning is a smarter choice than a Saturday afternoon. 

10. Don’t get a nail technician to do a podiatrist’s job. If you have calluses that require work, a podiatrist is better trained to address them than a nail technician. Don’t allow anything beyond a gentle callus-filing at the salon, warns Jacqueline Sutera, a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medicine Association.