After a long winter with feet stuffed into closed-toed, sensible shoes, sandals season can’t come soon enough — well, not until we get a proper pedicure, that is. But before you run to the nearest nail salon and stick your feet in any ol’ spa bath, ask yourself: just how safe is it?
There’s a reason the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a whole section its website devoted to “preventing pedicure foot spa infections.” You put yourself at risk when you go to a nail salon that doesn’t practice sanitary habits. Remember Paula Abdul’s poor, infected thumb from a manicure gone bad?
So does that mean we forgo pedicures forever? Definitely not. But it does mean we should find out what to know before we go.
Consider Skipping the Pedicure if You Have…
Freshly Shaved or Waxed Legs
The tiniest nick or opening in your skin gives the bacteria in your footbath a chance to seep in and wreak havoc.
Bug Bites, Scratches, or Bruises
Again, you don’t want to give the water (and bacteria) any opportunity to get beneath your skin.
“People with diabetes are at risk for a number of complications. Foot infections are common,” Lee J. Sanders, DPM, chief of podiatry service at Lebanon, Pennsylvania’s VA Medical Center, told Diabetes Forecast. “If they develop a break in the skin, it can be a life-threatening complication.” Unless you’re positive of the salon’s sanitation, it might not be worth the risk.
The Most Relaxing Part Can Be One of the Grossest
A 2005 study conducted partly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 29 out of 30 tested footbaths in California tested positive for Mycobacterium fortuitum, sinister-sounding bacteria that can cause skin disease, bone inflammation, and other nasty stuff. That means 97 percent of the tested footbaths had this bacteria in California alone!
The CDC’s mention of “prolonged boils on the lower legs” in the study’s abstract was enough to make me think twice about my favorite salon’s whirlpool footbath, even though it feels so good.
Toxin-Free? Not So Much.
The California EPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) released a report in 2012 showing that nail polishes claiming to be free of known toxic chemicals like toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) aren’t always.
For instance, 10 of the 12 “toluene-free” polishes actually contained toluene. As for the ones that claimed to be free of all three: “Chemicals were also detected whose purpose, property, human toxicity, and environmental fate, are unknown to DTSC.” Uh, YIKES.
Fungal Nail Infections Love to Stick Around
According to MedlinePlus, your chances of getting a fungal nail infection rise if the nail technician uses tools that have been used on other people. Even if they clean them in between, if they’re not thoroughly sanitized, there can be remnants of germs leftover. And unfortunately, prescription antifungal medicines — the only thing that can actually get rid of the fungus — only work about half of the time. Bummer.
This is all the more reason to educate yourself about the nail salon you frequent. Ask questions, pay attention to how often and how thoroughly tools and equipment (especially the footbaths!) are cleaned, and so forth. Or you could always give yourself an at-home pedicure.
Be sure to take a break from painted toes and let them breathe every so often, too. Colorful toes are prettier than bare ones, but not when they’re covering up an unknown nail fungus just waiting to f*ck up your sandals season.