Editorial note: an earlier version of this post was first published on April 18. 2009. It was updated on July 30, 2020.
Pedicures can feel like a luxury. Your feet get soaked and pampered, your legs get a massage, and you come out with fabulous-looking toes. But in some practices, pedicures can be dangerous. They can lead to infections, which can be potentially life-threatening, let alone gross, and a hassle to deal with. They can also make you susceptible to warts.
What’s the worst that could go wrong during a pedicure? Below are a few scenarios that may cause you to rethink your next foot salon visit.
Nail fungus and athlete’s foot
Fungus spreads from person-to-person, and it can be harboured in wet, warm areas. Think: those swirly jets in pedicure tubs. Yes, we know those mini foot hot tubs are one of the main reasons you’d go to a salon for a pedicure in the first place. But let’s face it: they’re gross. They grow bacteria and populate fungal infections.
If your skin has been cut even a tiny bit (such as from shaving that day), your likelihood of getting an infection will be heightened more by using those soakers. This can also happen if your nails are cut too short, or a callus remover accidentally slices you during the procedure.
If you must, opt for a salon that uses old-school, plain tubs. Or, ones that use liners in their foot baths, which they change and sanitize between each customer.
All warts are a form of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Plantar warts are just one strain of this virus. Most HPV spreads from skin touching the virus, especially when the skin is cut. These cuts don’t have to be big or noticeable – even microtears or miniscule openings can be enough for the virus to get in and cause abnormal skin growths.
Some people are more prone to getting warts than others. So, just like you’d want to wear flip flops at pool showers, or avoid sharing pumice stones with family members, you should also avoid salon pedicure equipment.
If you can’t resist a professional pedicure, you can bring your own tools. This is highly advisable if the salon you use doesn’t sterilize their equipment between each client, by using a liquid solution (UV systems aren’t that great). Or, if they don’t open brand new packages of tools for every single client they see.
Better yet, avoid the risk, and do your own pedicures at home.
Dry, scaly feet with cracks, fissures and eventual cellulitis infections or ulcers
Keep in mind that soaking your feet with certain ingredients can change their moisture levels. This can leave you feeling dryer than before. Deep bevels in your skin, known as fissures, can occur, which can then lead to bodily infections like cellulitis.
Cellulitis can be very dangerous, and lead to amputation or even death (especially if you’re diabetic or have poor blood circulation). Diabetics can also form foot ulcers from infections. In these cases, visiting a dirty pedicure salon is almost like asking for a problem.
If you are prone to dry skin, or have a vascular condition, you should avoid foot soaks altogether.
Ingrown nails, permanent nail disfigurement or nail removal
When your nails are cut too short, this can, at best, result in an ingrown nail, which will need to be professionally removed. Ingrown nails can become infected with puss balls. Eventually, they may need antibiotics if they are handled incorrectly.
Generally speaking, a foot doctor (podiatrist) should be handling your ingrown nails, and not a nail technician. But if you do see a nail tech, know that nails should be cut straight, and not made into rounded shapes. Those rounded nail corners can regrow into the skin, creating a puncture, and then an infection.
Moreover, if your cuticles are cut too short, they can damage the nail cell matrix, which is what grows your nails. You can end up with permanently disfigured nails that grow back thicker and yellower than before. They may look like a nail with a fungal infection. For this reason, cuticles should only be pushed back, and not cut.
Are pedicures at nail salons worth the risk? Take heed to the warnings!
We all get rough, scaly feet with corns and calluses. And, all but the tickliest of us love a good foot rub. Not to mention, nail cutting is just part of good hygiene. However, there are safer ways to do these types of self-care routines, than by going to a pedicure salon.
The risks of infection are quite high when sharing equipment between people – even at the best of places. High-quality nail salons will operate with great caution, sanitizing everything between customers. But it’s hard to clean water jets, and it’s hard to avoid the spread of all bacteria, in general. So, infections can still spread when care is taken.
Aside from nail art expertise, which you can still get at a salon without a full pedicure, it may be a better, safer option to use foot filers and callus removers at home. You can also moisturize your feet after showers, to keep them from drying out.
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