Nail your pedicure with these sanitary tips

A technician works on a subject's feet during a pedicure.

Professional pedicures and manicures might make you feel relaxed and confident, but it’s important to take precautions to avoid infections from the nail salon. If you enjoy getting pedicures, focus on the cleanliness of the nail salon.

“What they soak your feet in is important because if it’s just a basin that doesn’t have a motor, then there’s no area for the fungus or bacteria to lodge,” said Dr. Esther Jonas, podiatrist and assistant professor in the Joseph Barnhart Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Baylor.

Nail salons usually line the basin with plastic, which is a good added measure of protection. Things can get lodged into jets, so any footbath with jacuzzi-type jets must have plastic lining to avoid anything invading your feet. If you are at risk due to chemotherapy, diabetes or other conditions, tell your nail technician about your condition and risk for infection and ask to see how they sterilize the instruments.


If the pedicurist fails to clean the basin properly, you can contract staph infection if you have an open sore or are predisposed to staph, which can be life-threatening. Some might get tinea, which is a fungus that usually starts in the skin and can get into the nails.

“Some pedicurists are more aggressive than others and tend to be heavy-handed or push the cuticles down strongly. That can cause irritation to the cuticle,” Jonas said. “If you’re sensitive, you need to let them know to be sensitive and gentle.”

If you have an ingrown toenail or something causing pain and they become aggressive and nick you, it can lead to infection.

Preventative measures

If you easily bruise or have a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, point it out to your pedicurist or manicurist and make sure the pedicure does not aggravate or inflame the existing condition. Jonas also recommends bringing your own instruments and nail polish if you have sensitive skin or certain conditions.

The act of buffing weakens enamel, which can lead to fungus, so ask the specialist to buff lightly.


Nail polish affects the enamel of the nail, especially if you have it on your nails constantly. Jonas recommends pausing on the polish to let the nails strengthen and breathe. Some types of polish are more damaging while others are clean. Many clean polishes do not contain toxic chemicals that eat away at enamel.

“When you lose enamel, you lose that protection and can get toenail fungus. That could be because you go to the salon too much, not because the salon causes it,” she said.

Shellac, dip and fake nails are very hard on the nail plate. They require sanding down the nail, which ruins the top layer. The chemicals that make the manicure or pedicure last longer seep into the nail plate.

“When fake nails grow out, it creates an opening, so when you get them wet, water gets in and causes humidity and that causes the nail to rot,” Jonas said.

Ingrown toenails

People usually get ingrown toenails because of cuticles causing pain. A pedicurist might try to clean it and get it out, but they can face trouble depending on the shape of the nail.

“Some nails are flat, some are more seashell-shaped where they fan out and some curl all the way around where you can’t see the side of the nail,” she said. “Toenails that are curled under the nail bed will usually cause a lot of pain and lead to ingrown toenail”

Many toenails, like the seashell-shaped nails, are ingrown but not infected – they just form that way. It might be hard to differentiate the cuticle between the skin, and if the nail technician nicks the skin and causes bleeding, your potential for infection is high. Usually, a traumatic event to the nail bed causes an ingrown toenail to get infected, so if you feel pain, make sure your pedicurist is gentle.

At-home care

You should always take care of your feet and toenails, even when taking breaks from the salon.

  • Use cuticle oil or cuticle cream if you have thick, hard cuticles to keep them soft and easier to trim
  • Keep nails short: long toenails rubbing up in shoes and sneakers cause damage to the nail and the nail lifts up
  • Moisturize the feet to prevent dry, scaly skin that causes cracks
  • Use a pumice stone to keep the feet soft
  • Minimize wearing open back sandals frequently, especially if you have dry, scaly skin

“If you’re at risk, vascularly compromised or you don’t have good pulses or good feeling in the feet, go to a specialist because when you’re at risk, you don’t want to develop a foot infection that causes further damage to your feet,” Jonas said.

Learn more about Baylor Medicine’s podiatric and orthopedic specialists

By Homa Warren

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