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Nail Salons and negative practices

Updated on April 21, 2014

When I dreamed of being a nail technician, I had no idea how hard that would be. I knew that nail salons were a dime a dozen, but I thought as an American I wouldn't have much trouble building a business if I was good at what I did. I have heard for so many years, how women go to these salons and get their nails or a pedicure done and come out with painful nails or a foot fungus or bleeding cuticles, just one horror story after another. The list of nail salon violations on the website for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation is filled with one nail salon after another being fined or shut down because they don't follow the rules and run a clean salon. You can't blame me for thinking I could offer a solution to this problem. I studied hard and practiced hard and I am very good at what I do.

A note: I am a nail technician in Texas, so the regulations and state requirements that I mention are for the state of Texas. You can find all you need to know at the link in the reference section for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. That will take you to a pdf document, go to section 83.106 on page 32-R

Why am I spilling the beans here?

After I got my license, I found a very wonderful salon and rented a space to setup business doing nails. I setup my pricing plan, it was the same prices as those other 'dime a dozen' salons with the same services. I put out ads and flyers and handed out my business cards to everyone I could. I offered specials and freebies. Anything I could think of to just get people to give me a chance. After a year, I had to give it up. I simply could not afford to continue to pay rent and put money into a venture that wasn't breaking even. It wasn't even paying for the rent on the space.

Out of sheer frustration I stopped into one those salons you find in every marketplace, grocery store or shopping center and asked if they needed nail techs. They hired me on the spot. Much later, I realized why they did that. I had my nail license and could present a legal front on their business. In that salon, we'll call it Salon 1, I was the only tech who was licensed. The other two techs never produced a license to hang on their work station, which is required by the state of Texas. One time an inspector popped in for a surprise inspection, suddenly I was the only person in the shop. Customers were left in the middle of their service, while the techs all left so the inspector couldn't ask them to produce a nail license. The shops business license to operate as a nail salon was expired, more than a year out of date when that inspector came in. Of course she saw that and asked about it. The owner lied straight to her face and stated it was renewed, he just hadn't received the new one yet. She said she would be back the next month to check it. After she left, he laughed and said that it would be a year before she came back so he didn't need to worry about it. More than 6 months later, when I left, it still wasn't renewed and the inspector had not been back. I hate that I stayed as long as I did at that salon. My fear of losing the clientele I had built up kept me from leaving sooner, which is not much moral high ground to be standing on. In fact, it's not any of the moral high ground. There is no excuse.

I would like to open the eyes of the people regarding these salons and their bad practices; the incorrect information propagated by these salons and the disservice they are doing to their customers by destroying the nails of America.

Below I'm going to go over a few issues that are foremost on my mind right now.

Removal of false nail extensions

Again, this is an area where these illegitimate salons are doing you a major disservice. They are in it for the money, not the health or comfort of your nails. They want you to get in there, get done with you so you can pay them and then get out so they can move on to the next customer. Granted, your nails may look fantastic and be done quickly, but at what cost?

Removal of gel or regular acrylic nails should not be painful. Do not let them just pop them off. Some will take another unused false tip and shove it up under the nail extension until it pops off. All this does is cause you pain and tear off the top layers of your nail. They should file the acrylic or gel down with the nail drill until there is a thin layer remaining on your nail and then soak the remainder off with acetone. This prevents them from drilling on your natural nail. Using the nail drill on your natural nail is extremely bad for your nails. Not only does it make them easier to tear up when removing the nail extension, it makes them dangerously thin allowing for easy damage that will permanently disfigure your nails. It makes them sensitive and painful. Many times after you have had nail extensions re-applied you will feel a burning sensation in your nails and they hurt. The illegitimate salon nail tech will tell you to press on it to relieve the pain, that it will go away in a day or so and that it is a natural result of doing your nails. This is a bald faced lie. It hurts because your natural nail is too thin. When the acrylic cures, the chemical reaction causes heat and you feel this as burning in your nail beds. The acrylic is still curing when you leave the salon, it may feel completely done but there is still a chemical reaction occurring and when it actually completes, the burning stops. If your nail hadn't been filed so far down, it wouldn't burn. There is no reason why your nails should hurt after you get your nails done.

One more thing, the metal bit on the nail drill should NEVER be used on your natural nail. NEVER for any reason! If they want to buff the nail using a sanding band, that can be used on the natural nail, but must be used gently. You only ever want to take the shine off the natural nail, not layers of nail below that. Try it yourself one day. Get one of those emery boards you can buy at Walmart. One side is rough and one side is not as rough. Use the not so rough side and file the top of your nail. Notice how little pressure is needed to remove just the shine, don't get into the nail itself. Remember that the next time you go to the salon.

Other salon issues

Now lets talk about pedicures.

I'm sure you are aware that the pedicure throne tubs should be cleaned between each customer. What I'm sure you aren't aware of is that the state requires that each tub be cleaned a certain way for a certain amount of time in order to kill all bacteria.

Have you ever seen the foot spa being cleaned? I'm sure you've gone in on busy days and had to wait for a pedicure seat. Watch them clean up. You will see them rinse the tub, clean it with a spray or a sponge and fill it for the next customer. The EPA requires that the tub be drained, cleaned of debris, surface cleaned with disinfectant and then filled and allowed to soak for 10 minutes with the whirlpool/jets running. They are supposed to keep log books stating the customer name, time they came in, time they left, time the spa was cleaned and what kind of cleaning (between customers, daily at end of day or weekly). The point of these log books is to keep track of issues. If you get a pedicure and end up losing a toe or foot or dying, they can go to the salon you went to and find out exactly when you were seen and warn other customers of the danger and punish the salon for not following procedure. How many salons have you gone to and never once been asked your name while they filled out the information for the pedicure log?

I have seen these salons have sign in books but if you notice, there are columns out to the side that you never fill out. That's because they fill it out at the end of the day, making up times and cleaning information and customer names. Like I said, watch for yourself on a busy day, or a slow day. It doesn't matter. Even when they have time between customers, they still won't do the proper cleaning routine. Or paper work. When it is slow, sometimes someone will sit and fill out page after page of logs making up names and times so the logs are complete looking.

There is a link below in the reference section to the EPA regulations for pedicure spa cleaning. Read it and educate yourself so you can protect yourself.

Tools and implements used on the customer

I'm sure you've seen the metal tools that they use on your hands and feet. Well, did you know that they are required to use a fresh clean set on each customer? Did you know that each metal tool must be cleaned in a certain way and sent through the autoclave before it is used on a customer again? It's like a surgeons scalpels. How would you feel if your surgeon performed an operation on a patient, cutting into them, and then only rinsed off his scalpel before cutting into you for your surgery. Not an appealing thought right? It's the same thing with the tools used during a manicure or pedicure. Even the best nail tech will sometimes cut your cuticle and draw blood. Even if blood isn't drawn, there are still bacteria and germs that are picked up from the customers hands, no matter how clean they may appear. If the nail tech doesn't use fresh tools, they are just spreading those harmful things around.

Metal tools must be cleaned in this way:

  1. Washed with warm soapy water to remove all visible debris.
  2. Soaked in a disinfecting solution that kills viruses, fungus, bacteria and spores. This is generally Marvacide or Barbacide. There are others but those are the two that come to mind.
  3. After air drying from the disinfectant solution, metal tools must be sterilized in an autoclave or heat sterilizer. Once the cycle has completed and the items have cooled off, then they can be put into clean sterile pouches for use on customers.

Lets go back to Salon 1, they had an autoclave, right out in front of the customers but I was the only person who used it. Oh, they would each wash their metal tools and put them in the autoclave, but did not use the disinfectant solution or run the autoclave. They would simply go get those same tools and use them on a customer so it would look like they were getting clean tools. I made it my habit at the end of every day to disinfect my tools and then run them through a complete cycle in the autoclave. I had enough metal tools that I could get a clean set for every customer without needing to run the autoclave during the day. That is what is recommended but it's expensive to buy that many tools. At Salon 2, their autoclave was out in customer sight and their nail techs even went so far as to wash their tools with hot soapy water and then package them in a clean pack and put them in the autoclave. It appeared to the customer that they had gone to get a 'fresh set of tools' to use on them. Sadly, this was not the case. Again, it was never once run except by me after hours. Just another way that theses salons are cheating. Use a little sleight of hand and the customer will never realize that you aren't using fresh clean tools.

It's funny, well not really, the other nail techs at these salons would scoff and mock me for making an issue out of this. They would say it was enough to wash with hot water and soap and that the customer doesn't know the difference. They would say it wastes time to run the autoclave and since its not necessary, why bother. Only it is necessary and it is required by the state. When their customers came back complaining of a strange spot on their toenails, they never once would admit that it was a nail fungus.

You want wax pedicure?

Are you disgusted yet? Well, this one may really get you if you aren't. Many salons offer a paraffin dip as part of the upper level pedicure package. According to the state regulations, this wax is one time use only. Meaning once it is on your hands or feet, it must be thrown away. Can you guess where I am heading with this? Yeah, I think you guessed it. That wax would be put back in the paraffin pot after use. Some salons have this pot out where the customer can see it, like that would stop them from keeping that used wax somewhere else and then putting it back in the pot after hours. Salon 1 had their paraffin pots behind closed doors and would collect all that used paraffin and put it back in the pot after hours. When I worked there I never did a pedicure using that paraffin. I just couldn't in conscience use that on my customers. If I had one who asked about it, I would discourage them and offer some other add on in exchange. Salon 2, the second salon I worked at did not offer paraffin dips. They were always conveniently 'out of wax' and the pot sat out where customers could see it, empty. I heard that there was an incident one day where a customer was washing their hands at the sink near the paraffin pot and saw how gross it was and made huge stink about it because she had just had a pedicure with paraffin. So they just left it empty.

What should you do?

Now that you know how sneaky and dishonest these types of nail salons can be, what should you do about it? Don't take your business there. There are other salons and techs struggling to make it in this business. Find one and ask questions about their sanitation practices. Watch what is happening, look behind the curtain! My general rule is, if the 'employee' area is cluttered and dirty looking, that doesn't bode well for the other sanitation practices of the salon. If you were in someone's house and their kitchen was filthy with stuff piled around everywhere and dirty dishes laying about, what would your confidence level be that the dish they want you to eat off of, or the pots they cooked the food in, were clean?

If enough people stand up and make a stand for what is right, these salons won't have such a hold on this industry.


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