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 décor -- 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.