Health Risks Lurking at the Nail Salon

Products like nail polishes, glues and other products used in nail salons may contain chemicals like toluene, formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate and methacrylate compounds. You must use safety precautions as these chemicals can cause breathing problems for the worker and sometimes the customer. You might enjoy the pampering and relaxation of having a manicure or acrylic nails, but this can come with some hazards.

It’s difficult not noticing the strong smell of acetone and other chemicals when you walk into a nail salon. Have you ever wondered what it is you are breathing and how it could affect your body? Norman Edelman, a pulmonologist, senior medical consultant with the American Lung Association and professor at Stoneybrook University’s School of Medicine, says that these are organic solvents have a high potential for carcinogenesis-causing cancer and in some people, irritation of the airways. More research is still needed to determine if breathing these chemicals causes cancer, but they know for sure that these things will trigger asthma.

The U.S. Department of Labor states the workers should avoid using products with the “toxic trio” toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate. If you are only visiting for appointments, such chemicals likely won’t be detrimental to your health unless you have asthma or are particularly sensitive to irritants and salons with poor ventilation.

Beware of toe infections when you get a pedicure at a salon that can even result, in the worst-case scenario, with having the toenail removed. I have myself received a toenail fungus following a visit to the salon for a pedicure.

U.S. News spoke to podiatrists, dermatologist and other health professionals to learn which health risks you should be aware of during your next manicure or pedicure. Sometimes the technician clips the cuticles a little too quickly and nicks the skin, causing some bleeding. A Tennessee podiatrist and author of “Death by Pedicure” says the most alarming health risk by injury at a nail salon is one that leads to infection. There are state protocols for disinfection, which about 75% of salons in the U.S. don’t follow. All of the salon’s tools should be sterilized by using an autoclave like what is used in the medical environment and produces steam and pressure for disinfecting. The liquid disinfectants that many nail salons use are effective if the instruments soak for around 20 minutes. A busy salon might be cutting that short.

Microtraumas to the skin by nail filing or cuticle cutting, resulting in infection, might also occur during manicures and pedicures. These are small injuries that are not seen but that can lead to problems with a bacterial infection and a fungal infection. Boy, don’t I know that! It took me quite a while to get the fungus cleared and it still pops up now and then and I have to treat it again….and again….and again!

If you are someone with poor circulation or diabetes, you are at a much higher risk of contracting an infection and should probably avoid going to a typical nail salon. You can bring your own instruments or ask technicians about their disinfecting procedures. The nail fungus can spread in a salon if foot baths and instruments aren’t properly sterilized. If you contract a fungus, it can most likely be treated at home, but if it persists, see your podiatrist.

I love my pedicures but I am extremely careful when the technician comes at me with those trimmers and files. I look to see and sometimes will ask have they been sterilized. A prior warning to work carefully around your toes and cuticles might save you from a hazardous pedicure or manicure. Use caution and enjoy your salon visits.

Dr. Fredda Branyon