Unsanitary Conditions at Nail Salons Pose Health Risk

NBC 5 uncovers the dirty little secrets you don’t see at your neighborhood nail salon

Inspection records for nail salons in North Texas revealed violation after violation for unsanitary conditions and licensing issues, according to documents obtained by NBC 5 from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR).

By law the TDLR, which is the state agency responsible for salon inspections, must inspect salons once every two years. But the rest of the time, consumers have to be vigilant.

"You have to take accountability for your own safety at some point," said TDLR spokeswoman Susan Stanford.

NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit combed through inspection records for salons in the Metroplex from the last four years. It found in that time, TDLR conducted 6,441 inspections, which include inspections of salons and individual manicurists who work at them. 

Inspectors noted more than 4,700 violations.  Of those, 831 violations resulted in fines.  About half of those were for licensing issues. The other half were for sanitation problems, including filthy foot spas and unclean equipment.

"That's a concern," said Dr. Tara Rao, a dermatologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "Cleanliness is one of the most important things with any cosmetic procedure that anybody gets."

Rao said while that by and large getting a manicure and pedicure is safe, though there can be problems because bacteria and fungus, which live on our skin, can invade through tiny cuts.

Cutting too close to the cuticle, or even shaving and then having a pedicure, could create an opportunity for infection.

"There are inherent risks that people really need to know about," said Rao. "The three main risks with manicure and pedicure include infection, damage to the nail plate and allergy to the creams and the polishes that are used in the treatment."

"We Need the Public's Help"

Typically TDLR inspectors show up at salons unannounced to make sure the salon and its workers are following state guidelines.

"You want to make sure that that they properly licensed, having taken the steps to insure proper health and safety and sanitation issues that could arise if they're not following those state requirements," said Soyica White, an inspector with TDLR.

White also said inspectors check to make sure equipment is clean and sanitized with a state-approved method of sterilization.  White also said if a manicurist pulls tools from a drawer, consumers can and should ask if they have been properly cleaned.

Inspectors also look to make sure foot baths, which can harbor bacteria, are disinfected between every client.  They must also be cleaned daily, and each pedicure station must have a cleaning log to prove the work has been done.

"You have the right to ask for these records and to review them," said White.

"We need the public's help to protect the public," said Stanford, who insures TDLR looks at every complaint.

There are more than 1,400 salons in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and more than 20 opening every month.  While Stanford insisted TDLR keeps up with the pace, inspectors cannot be everywhere all the time, and often issues go unreported.

"I think infections and other types of injuries that happen during manicures or pedicures go unreported because a lot of people don't realize that cosmetology salons are licensed by a state agency," she said.

Consumers also don't report problems because they opt not to return to a salon where they had a problem.  Instead they just choose a different one.

Stacey Barry never reported her pedicure problem to TDLR.  In 2007, she was diagnosed with a staph infection hours after her pedicure.

"It looked like blisters," she said and explained that she felt a burning sensation on her leg. "I was a little nervous."

She said she shaved her legs because she was getting ready for a dance performance then went for a pedicure.  She ultimately ended up at an emergency care clinic, spending $500 for treatment.  That salon is now closed.

"I just trusted it's a salon, an establishment, it's going to be good," said Barry.

But salon owners like Missy Malone, owner of SPAtaneity a salon that caters to clients with conditions that compromise their immune system like cancer and diabetes, believes safety shouldn't be a luxury.

"If you don't feel comfortable the minute you walk in the door, you have reservations.  Trust your instinct and walk out," Malone said.

Consumers can and should report any problems they see or experience at nail salons to the TDLR (CLICK HERE). Consumers can also look up violations at their salons (CLICK HERE). (Use the drop down menu to select "Cosmetologists" then put in your salon's name under "Inquire by Company Name" and chose your city with the drop down menu under "Inquire by Location")

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