5 Things You Should Not Do Before Going to a Nail Salon

Don't ruin a good thing by doing something bad.

Nothing finishes your look with a flourish like nice nails. You can try to achieve French tips at home, or you can leave it to the pros to shape, buff and paint your nails to perfection while you sit back and relax.

You may think a trip to the nail salon or the day spa is a great way to pamper your digits (or tootsies) after a long, hard week dealing with life's nail biting moments. If you do, you're in good company. The nail business is booming. Nail salons and day spas are popping up everywhere, and they're offering more options than ever before. Whether you want gel nails (a big seller these days) or a classic manicure, you'll find the services and styles you're looking for -- and maybe a bit more -- pretty easily.


Nail salons are getting some bad press these days for a few of their less desirable attributes, though, like unsanitary conditions that can make you sick. This doesn't mean you should invest in a UV light and a bag full of supplies and try to perform all the new nail techniques yourself -- unless you're feeling adventurous. It does mean you should use some caution and common sense before you choose a salon or slide your credit card across the counter with a tastefully tinted fingernail.

5: Don't Choose a Nail Salon for the Wrong Reasons

You may like the idea of stopping by that nail salon down the street from work, but proximity is not the best gauge of a good manicurist. If you're getting your nails done once a week, location and price will be factors in your selection, but your first concern should always be about safety.

Most U.S. states have regulations in place for the safe operation of day spas, nail salons and hair salons. In these days of cutbacks, though, inspectors may not be getting to all locations on a regular rotation the way they used to. Check with the Better Business Bureau in your area before you choose a salon, and ask for recommendations from people you know. An endorsement from a neighbor who uses the salon is helpful, but you should also:


Keep it legal. Make sure the salon and its technicians are licensed to operate in your state. Many salons hang their certificates in prominent locations, so check out the d├ęcor -- especially around the counter or cash register.

Ask about cleanliness. Ask for a rundown of the measures the salon takes to maintain cleanliness. A reputable salon will be glad to explain its procedures. Choose a location that uses an autoclave or sterilizing UV light to clean its tools.

Ask for a tour. Individual nail tables (stations) should be free of dust, well-organized and stocked with plenty of single-use items like cotton swabs. You may not be a cleanliness expert (and you shouldn't have to be), but transparency is important. If asking to take a look around is met with resistance and annoyance, take your business to another salon.

Take a sniff. If you can smell strong chemicals or something worse when you walk through the door, it may be a sign that the salon is dirty or its ventilation system isn't equal to the task of removing nail dust, dead skin cells, acetone fumes and other airborne particulates. That noxious air can do more than make your hair and clothes smell bad. It has the potential to make you sick. If the place smells nasty or stuffy, you're in the wrong salon.

4: Don't Fiddle With Your Nails in Advance

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it isn't uncommon for women to shave before showing up for laser hair treatments, put makeup on before having facials or fiddle with their nails before visiting the nail salon. Nails can be persnickety, though. A good manicurist will know the right nail shape and length for you and have a better chance of getting your natural nails even. Your lopsided attempts to shape, buff or otherwise prep your nails in advance won't help the process much. Leave the work to the pros for the best results. They've seen it all before.


3: Don't Shave Your Legs Before Having a Pedicure

Shaving your legs sounds like a polite thing to do before getting a pedicure, but it's a bad idea. Every time you shave, the razor creates tiny nicks in your skin. You may not feel them or see them, but they're there. A nick doesn't even have to draw blood to be vulnerable to infection. Those abrasions are like open doors inviting bacteria into your body.

Most nail salons are pretty clean, but dealing with so many people in a confined space does create the potential to spread disease. Bacterial, viral and fungal infections have all been linked to nail salons. If you do contract an infection, you might just catch an inconvenient case of athlete's foot. However, you could come away with the virus that causes warts (ugh), or even contract Mycobacterium fortuitum, a bacterial infection that can cause nasty sores and leave significant scarring. Knowing the salon you choose uses safe practices is important, but so is staying as insulated from potential problems as possible. Refrain from shaving your legs for a few days before visiting the salon.


2: Don't Cut Your Cuticles

cutting cuticles
Avoid the temptation and leave those cuticles alone!

The cuticle around your nail may look rough and raggedy, or somewhat stretched and unattractive, but its main function isn't to look good. It's there to keep your nails safe from harm. Think of it as a protective eyelid for each nail. Cutting it away leaves your nails more vulnerable to fungal and bacterial infection. In a salon, where there may be an increased risk of infection anyway, don't make matters worse. Leave your cuticles intact, and if the nail technician recommends removing them, politely decline.

Instead, soak your nails for 10 to 15 minutes in warm, soapy water and then push the cuticles back gently with a towel before you visit the salon. You can also use a cuticle remover that sloughs off the dead skin but leaves the living tissue intact.


1: Don't Forget to Pack a Few Tools and Supplies

It's hard for nail salons to keep everything absolutely clean all the time. Tools are a good example: Even when tools are treated with a strong disinfectant or sanitized under ultraviolet lights, they can still harbor bacteria, especially if they're porous or have nooks and crannies. Most salons are good at swapping out supplies and cleaning tools as prescribed by law, but there are always exceptions.

Telltale dust on a nail buffer or pumice stone is a clear indication that the tool has been used recently -- on somebody else. If that recent customer was sporting a minor fungal infection -- say an infection minor enough to escape the notice of the technician -- well, you get the idea. To avoid worrying about who may have used a tool last, consider bringing your own tools to the salon. Here are some likely candidates for your nail tool stash. Some of these items are probably consumable articles at your salon, but you never know:


  • nail nippers
  • emery boards
  • nail buffers
  • nail brushes
  • pumice stones
  • foam toe separators

When you get your tools back home, wash them with hydrogen peroxide and store them for next time.

Lots More Information

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  • Bower, Lisa. "How to Find a Good Nail Salon." (8/27/12). http://www.life123.com/beauty/grooming/manicures/how-to-find-a-good-nail-salon.shtml
  • Braunstein, Glenn D. "Prudent Pampering: How to Choose a Healthy Nail Salon." Huffington Post. 4/5/10. (8/27/12). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/glenn-d-braunstein-md/prudent-pampering-how-to_b_526021.html
  • CDC. "Nail Hygiene." 10/30/09. 8/27/12). http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/hand/nail_hygiene.html
  • Consumer Reports. "Manicures: The price may be higher than it seems." 4/28/10. (8/27/12). http://news.consumerreports.org/health/2010/04/manicures-the-price-may-be-higher-than-it-seems-risks-of-gel-nail-manicures-.html
  • Institute for Women's Health Research at Northwestern University. "Nail Salon Safety." (8/27/12). http://blog.womenshealth.northwestern.edu/2010/02/nail-salon-safety/
  • Mannino, Brynn. "9 Things Your Nail Technician Wants to Tell You." Woman's Day. (8/27/12). http://www.womansday.com/style-beauty/beauty-tips-products/9-things-your-nail-technician-wants-to-tell-you-123064
  • Medicine Net. "What About Nail Salon Safety?" 7/7/04. (8/27/12). http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=21574&page=2
  • Nail Manufacturers Council. "10 Nail Myths to Stop Believing." (8/27/12). http://files.nailsmag.com/Handouts/myths.pdf
  • Teen Source. "Nail Salons: Do's and Dont's." (8/27/12). http://www.teensource.org/ts/blog/2011/06/nail-salons-dos-and-donts.html
  • TotalBeauty.com. "6 Things Your Nail Salon Doesn't Want You to Know." 3/30/11. (8/27/12). http://shine.yahoo.com/fashion/6-things-your-nail-salon-doesnt-want-you-to-know-2469958.html
  • Wyer, E. Bingo. "Getting Out of Hand." Consumers Digest. 5/08. (8/27/12). http://www.consumersdigest.com/special-reports/nail-salons
  • Yoshinaka, Michelle. "Things You Need Know Before Heading to the Nail Salon." Shape. (8/27/12). http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/beauty-style/things-you-need-know-heading-nail-salon