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Are professional pedicures really safe?

Whether you’re headed to the beach or a barbecue, you may have plans to stop by your neighborhood nail salon for a pedicure. While a professional pedicure can help you feel pampered and confident in summer sandals, there are health risks associated with nail trimming, cuticle clipping, and foot soaking.

Salon pedicures can put you at risk for developing foot fungus, ingrown toenails and/or dangerous infections. Dane Ulett, DPM, a Piedmont podiatrist, shares how to keep your feet in good shape while minimizing your risk of infection.  

The risks of professional pedicures

Any time you take a public facility, lots of customers, the potential for nicks and cuts, and employees who may be too rushed to properly clean equipment and tools, you have a recipe for the spread of bacteria, fungus and viruses.

Who should not get a professional pedicure?

“For our diabetic patients, especially those with poor circulation, we do not recommend pedicures,” says Dr. Ulett. “For other people, it’s at their own risk. I tell them to make sure their nail salon is licensed to sterilize their instruments and make sure the instruments are as clean as possible.”

How to stay safe when getting a pedicure

  • Don’t shave the day you get a pedicure. “If you shave, you may nick yourself,” he says. “Your skin is your first line of defense for infection.”

  • Be sure salon employees thoroughly drain, sanitize and rinse the footbaths between customers. Bacteria or fungal infections can be introduced from soaking your feet in the water, particularly if you have a nick, cut, bug bite or scrape. And even if the tub itself is disinfected, the potential for risk is still there: dead skin and bacteria can build up in the foot bath’s hard-to-clean water jets.

  • Choose a reputable nail salon that is licensed to sterilize its instruments or a salon that uses brand new tools from a sealed package for each customer. Alternatively, you can also bring your own tools to the salon.

  • Forgo the footbath and opt for a polish change only. “I tell my patients they can go to a salon and have their nails painted without having to put their feet in the water,” says Dr. Ulett. “You can take care of the rest at home.”

How to care for your feet at home

Dr. Ulett’s best advice: Try at-home pedicures whenever possible to avoid communicable diseases at salons. Here are his tips for best results:

  • Keep your feet moisturized. After a shower, dry off most of the water on your feet and slather on a thick moisturizer.

  • Exfoliate rough spots.If you have callouses from wearing high heels or open-toe shoes, use a pumice stone when your feet are wet or a pedicure foot file when your skin is dry. However, I don’t recommend that diabetics use foot files at all.”

  • Don’t trim your nails too short and clip them straight across to prevent painful ingrown toenails.

What are the signs of infection?

If you’ve recently gotten a pedicure, keep an eye out for these common foot conditions:

  • Ingrown toenail. The toe will be painful, red and swollen.

  • Nail fungus. The nail will thicken and change color (usually yellow or black).

  • Infection. Redness and swelling at the infection site, such as the leg or foot.

What should you do if you suspect you have an infection from a pedicure?

“You should see your primary care physician or a podiatrist if it’s an ingrown toenail or a fungus,” he says. “Some cases of fungus can take six months to a year to improve with treatment. If it’s an ingrown toenail, we can trim it out in the office.”

Learn more ways to keep your feet healthy.

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