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Manicures 101

        Health | Nail Health

Salon Manicure Safety

You came to the salon for a manicure, not for warts or fungus. If you're careful, the only thing blooming on your fingers will be those fake flowers.

First, look for the official stamps of legality and cleanliness: licenses. If the salon is in the United States, the state health department must approve it. The health department checks that metal instruments are sterilized and that all other tools are cleaned or disposed of between customers. The nail technician also must be certified by the state board of cosmetology. For the license, the nail technician completes courses and 600 hours of supervised practice on classmates and customers.

These licenses mean the salon is equipped to give manicure cleanly. They don't guarantee the salon will do it right on the day you visit. The most common infections acquired at nail salons are warts, caused by the human papillomavirus, and nail fungus. Both problems begin with the customer before you, who has the infection. The salon contributes to the problem by not sterilizing the instruments properly. Fungi or viruses are then on the instruments that the manicurist uses on you. You still need breaks in your skin to get infected, which you may have if you rip your cuticles. If not, buffing or cuticle clipping during the manicure can create the breaks.

You're better protected against salon infections, then, if you skip the cuticle pushing and clipping. "One mistake people make is to let the manicurist damage their cuticles," says Dr. Kent Aftergut, a dermatologist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "I know some people don't like the way cuticles look. But from a medical perspective, cuticles should be left alone. Cuticles are what separate your nail bed from the rest of the world -- bacteria, fungi and viruses," says Aftergut.

The best protection, though, is to bring your own clean equipment, says Aftergut. You can buy it for about $60, he says. Salons see it often, and most don't mind at all. In fact, they'll store your instruments for you in a bag. That way, you don't have to rely on the salon to properly sterilize.

If you're unlucky enough to get an infection, see a doctor.


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