Danger…at Your Local Salon

Just 36 hours after getting a pedicure at an upscale nail salon near her home in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania, Jamie Joffe, 38, had a fever of 101 degrees and a very scary-looking toe.


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Just 36 hours after getting a pedicure at an upscale nail salon near her home in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania, Jamie Joffe, 38, had a fever of 101 degrees and a very scary-looking toe—“It was about five times its usual size, and there was greenish goo oozing out from under the nail,” she recalls. Joffe went to the emergency room, where they diagnosed her with a staph infection, probably from scissors or a cuticle pusher contaminated with the bacteria. “The doctor made an incision and drained all this stuff out of it,” she says. “If I hadnt gotten the infection treated quickly, it could have spread to the rest of my body.”

After taking antibiotics for 10 days, Joffe was fine, but the experience left her with more than a scarred toe. “I still get pedicures, but I now bring my own tools and watch what theyre doing very carefully,” she says. “I had no idea you could get so sick from a pedicure.”

Most of us arent aware of the potentially ugly side of manicures, pedicures, Botox injections, haircuts, or waxing. “We assume that if a salon is operating it must be safe, but thats not true,” says Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine, who has studied salon infections and salon safety. “Theres lots to worry about, including poorly trained technicians and dirty or illegal instruments.”

Each state has its own rules for salon safety, but even those with the strictest standards, like California and Texas, cant scrutinize the businesses as carefully as theyd like. “Each of our 18 inspectors is responsible for 3,500 to 4,000 shops, which means most salons get inspected only about once every six years—unless we get a complaint,” says James Jacobs, a supervising inspector with the California Bureau of Barbering and Cosmetology. “About 75% of the salons we inspect have violations. Sometimes theyre minor, like a nail file being re-used when it should have been tossed. But lots of times theyre real health hazards, like filthy foot spas.”

Thats bad news because, like hospitals, salons can harbor dangerous infection-causing bacteria and viruses, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and hepatitis B. That means it really is buyer beware, and the onus is on you to protect yourself. Heres how to make sure all your beauty treatments are totally safe.


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Ginny Graves
Last Updated: December 22, 2008

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