Manicured nails have become a fashion accessory. But it's important you don't leave the salon with a nasty nail infection. The 6,000 salons in Alabama are inspected just once a year. Fighting for You spoke with state inspectors and doctors to help you know what to watch out for.
The vast majority of salons get it right. They sterilize tools, clean tubs and use fresh towels. However when they cut corners, the customer can pay a heavy price. "Happily we don't see too many things, but the things we do see would really shock you," warns Bob Mckee, Director of the Alabama Board of Cosmetology and Barbering. He says no personal service today is without risk so the buyer must beware.
"We see nail fungus, bacterial infections, nail diseases," explains Dr. Rayna Dyck, a Homewood dermatologist. She says she gets regular manicures and the public shouldn't be afraid, just more aware.
First make sure metal utensils are going through an autoclave to sterilize them. "I like to see the package opened and the gloves straight from the box so I know they're not used on someone else," said Dr. Dyck.
Manicurists should be gentle on the cuticles which can get cut easily, making way for germs. Nail files and sponges should only be used once.
You should also pay attention to your senses. "What kind of smell, what kind of odor is there? If it's really strong better be careful," advises Mckee. He says a sloppy salon is another red flag.
With jet style pedicure bowls, the sanitizer should be in the bowl ten minutes. "If you're really busy and take a short cut here, I've seen terrible things happen," according to McKee. Jet-free tubs are preferable with tub liners.
Inspection reports which are on bright yellow paper should be clearly posted at salons. "We look for sanitation, sanitation, sanitation," explains McKee.
The biggest mark-offs come for no licenses or use of banned utensils: heel cutters and the so called cheese graters along with non-nail drills which are very dangerous because they can damage the nail bed.
A check of inspection reports for Jefferson and Shelby counties found a number of zeros. McKee says most often that's a license issue that can be quickly cleared. As for other low scores, he says you don't want to go there.
ABC 33/40 did hear some complaints that inspections have become too "nitpicky." "Lately they are more interesting and more crazy," said Marlene Glaser who works at a local salon. She says write ups for a brush left on a counter or a missed sweeping in between clients who are in a hurry should not be the focus. Instead she would like more on health and safety. "It's kind of ridiculous."
Another salon we spoke with said a license transfer issue from a manicurist who moved from out of state scored them a zero and a big fine. They felt it was unfair for a mistake that could be resolved easily. Salon owners told ABC 33/40 they hope customers will look at the detailed write-ups in the report, as opposed to the raw score which may be misleading.
If you want to be extra safe, you can always bring your own manicure tools. A few more tips: don't shave 24 to 36 hours before an appointment. Also check your hands for any small cuts which cold open the way for infections.
PDF: List of salons in Jefferson and Shelby counties
(NOTE: 300 SCORE MEANS THE SALON WAS NOT OPEN WHEN INSPECTORS CAME BY)
PDF: Alabama Board of Cosmetology and Barbering Inspection Report