How to Get a Safe Manicure or Pedicure

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nail nippers, nail salon, safety tips, healthy nails
A mani-pedi is a relaxing indulgence. Make sure the only thing you leave with is perfectly manicured fingers and toes.

Long before the gel nail trend, the Babylonians were found buried with a manicure set, and it’s said that Cleopatra had a penchant for red nails.

Your favorite primping ritual might be as ancient as the pyramids, but your nail salon’s sanitizing techniques might need to be far more modern.

Thanks to recent legislation, nail salons in California that follow sanitary practices and reduce their chemical toxicity will soon be able to receive a Healthy Nail Salon certification.

“Having a rating system will help you when you want to indulge in a manicure and make sure all the best practices are being followed,” says Dr. Joyce Fox, a Cedars-Sinai dermatologist.

Here’s what to look for before you book your next mani-pedi:

Licensed salons

One of the most important steps you should take before visiting a nail salon is to check if the manicurist is licensed. In California, the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology requires nail technicians to undergo specific training to ensure they care for your nails safely.

The license is not just to prove they are skilled at applying a multitude of styles; it includes being able to identify if a client has a fungal infection, and how to prevent the transmission of bacteria and viruses to other clients. A licensed technician will also know how to treat a hangnail, and when to refuse service for your health.


Read: Happy Feet: 5 Tips to Remedy Ingrown Toenails


Are the tools clean and sanitized?

Take a peek into a salon you plan to visit to see how the technicians handle their tools and work areas. The cuticle cutters and clippers should be sanitized in pouches, and any area that touches the skin—this includes table tops, arm rests, and foot-soaking tubs—should be sanitized between clients.

At some salons, you can even bring your own nail tools. Not every salon is OK with this practice, so be sure to ask.

What’s hiding in your nail polish?

Ah, the fun part—picking the color! Whether your go-to is a nude or a fierce red, the distinct smell when you enter a nail salon is from the chemical components used by beauty brands to keep polish long-lasting and shiny.

There are a few toxic chemicals in some polishes to avoid. These compounds can lead to hormone disorders, as well as damage to the nail bed. Look for at least “3-free” polishes—those that have discontinued the use of the “toxic trio” of harmful chemicals:

  • Toluene—a solvent that helps the polish stick to the nail
  • Formaldehyde—a variant of this compound is added to harden the nail polish
  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)—a plastic polymer also found in grout, acrylic paints, and glue

Read: Curb Your Risk of Skin Cancer


Limit a mani-pedi to once a month

The break is better for your nails and your skin. Routine exposure to UV lights, even for a small duration of time, carries a small increase in skin cancer risk.

Ask if your salon is using LED lights that dry nails quickly with limited exposure to UV radiation. Also, add a sunscreen to your hands before going under the light.

Make sure your nails are healthy

Nails may reveal important health concerns. Painting over ugly lines or spots won’t address what’s causing them. If your nails are splitting, blackening, or unusually discolored, skip the salon. Book an appointment with your doctor instead.

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