Could your salon visit make you sick?

What could be lurking in your favourite nail salon?
What could be lurking in your favourite nail salon?

Holiday parties and gatherings, or simply pampering yourself for the new year ahead, mean more trips to nail and hair salons for some.

But if you're not careful, you might end up picking up more than you bargained for...

Health issues after a salon visit

In a recent small survey of nail and hair salon clients, more than two-thirds said they'd had one or more health issues after visiting a salon. These included skin problems, fungal infections and respiratory symptoms.

"When it comes to safety, the most important thing is being aware of the dangers present in salons," said Lindsey Milich, lead author of a study based on the survey. She's a research analyst at the Rutgers School of Public Health in Piscataway, NJ.

Nail and hair salons generally offer a wide range of services such as manicures, pedicures, applying artificial nails, waxing, hair styling and hair colouring.

However, many of these services involve exposure to chemicals that can be hazardous for the client or nail technician or stylist, the researchers said. These products can cause allergic reactions and skin irritations.

In addition, because many of the tools are reused from one client to another, it's possible to pick up bacterial and fungal infections if proper sterilisation techniques are not followed.

What the survey entailed

The survey included 90 patrons of nail and hair salons from three counties in New Jersey. Nearly all (94%) were women. Survey participants were asked about health symptoms, as well as their knowledge of potential hazards and safety practices in salons.

About 42% they'd developed skin issues and 10% reported fungal infections after salon visits. These problems included itchiness to the hands or face, cuts, burning or tingling sensations, pain or redness around the nail area, athlete's foot, finger or toenail fungus, and nail discoloration.

One in six survey participants reported respiratory symptoms, including runny nose, itching or watery eyes, trouble breathing and headache.

Across the board, the percentages for reported problems were higher for nail salons than hair salons.

Health of nail technicians also at stake

Though the salon clients reported experiencing these problems after a salon visit, Milich noted that the study did not prove that these issues were caused by the salon.

Milich was also involved in a second study, which looked at the health of nail salon technicians. That study – led by Derek Shendell from the Rutgers School of Public Health – included 68 workers from 40 nail salons whose owners agreed to their participation.

Most of the nail salon workers were Asian women who said they'd had eye, nose, throat or skin symptoms they believed were related to their jobs.

The study found that most workers had received training only in English, not in their primary language. The researchers suggested that salon workers needed "comprehensive chemical use training", and urged that more research be done on the extent of salon workers' exposure to hazardous materials.

The study involving salon clients was published in the November/December issue of the Journal of Chemical Health and Safety. The study on nail salon workers was published last month in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Protect yourself

For those who frequent salons, what can you do to safeguard your health?

  • First, check that the salon is clean and licensed by your state's cosmetology board.
  • Check that the salon properly sanitises any hair or nail tools that are reused from client to client.
  • Make sure the equipment is sterilised in an autoclave, which is a device that heats the tools to kill bacteria and looks like a small oven.
  • Check whether your salon uses a disposable plastic liner in the foot bath.
  • It's generally better to have your cuticles pushed back than cut, but if sterile equipment is used, it's okay to have your cuticles cut.
  • If you do get an injury when they're cutting, be sure to clean it well and apply an antibiotic ointment to the cut. "If you see any swelling or redness at the site of the cut, or you get an injury on the nail bed, see your doctor," Milich said.
  • People with diabetes need to be extra cautious when getting pedicures. Experts recommend having your nails and cuticles cut by a podiatrist, rather than at a beauty salon.

And if you are still not convinced about the dangers of your local salon, Health24 reported earlier this year about a woman who suffered horrific third degree burns after visiting her salon for a routine pedicure and callous removal treatment.

The moral of the story? Go to trusted, accredited institutions and seek medical help immediately if you notice any symptoms. 

Image credit: iStock 

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