5 On Your Side

Dangerous Bacteria May Lurk At Nail Salons

Posted February 10, 2006

— Three years ago, Christine Morrison got her first pedicure at a Raleigh salon. Almost immediately, one of her big toes became seriously infected.

"It was sore when I left the spa," Morrison said. "It's been sore ever since."

She's tried all sorts of remedies, but doctors say her toenail will probably have to be removed.

"I can't just walk around with my feet (exposed)," said Morrison. "I'm embarrassed about it. It's kind of yucky."

Many people don't know that salons are inspected and graded similar to the way restaurants are. At least once a year, inspectors show up unannounced and check every aspect of the salon, from equipment to work stations to restrooms.

Connie Wilder knows how easily infection can happen. As the supervisor of the agency that inspects and grades nearly 13,000 nail and hair salons across the state, she sees the dangers firsthand.

Wilder said infections can spread through nail dust and clippings, especially when they're on instruments that aren't cleaned between uses.

Even worse, she said, fungus and boil-causing bacteria builds up in pedicure bowls when they're not cleaned regularly.

The build-up at the Nail Palace at Paddington Station in Raleigh was so bad that when Wilder and WRAL visited, that if someone came at that moment to get a pedicure, Wilder said she wouldn't allow it. And she found more violations -- including dirty drawers, buffers, brushes and even used eyebrow-waxing strips mixed with supposedly clean ones.

"It seems they don't care that much for their own safety as well as for the safety of the client," Wilder said.

So, the grade given to that salon that day was the lowest one possible -- a B. Wilder can only hope it's enough to make customers pay attention.

While Morrison doesn't plan to ever get a pedicure again, she hopes all of this will get people's attention. She also hopes that it will remind others that all it may take is one wrong move with one dirty piece of equipment during one visit.

The lowest grade a salon can get is an 80, or B. Beyond that, salons can be fined from $50 all the way to $1,000 for each violation.

The bottom line: pay attention to the grade at the salon. Check cleanliness and ask about how tools are sterilized. Bring your tools if you can.

Nail Palace has since been regraded and now posts an A. WRAL has talked with the manager, who said he fixed most of the problems.

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