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For pedicures, be careful where you step

  • Story Highlights
  • Some people get fungal nails or infections from pedicures
  • Make sure that instruments are getting sterilized properly
  • Tubs need to be cleaned with an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant
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By Linda Saether
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Shoes tell a lot about a person. If you stumbled into my closet, you would probably think I was a security guard, a construction worker or a Nurse Ratched wannabe. My taste in shoes tends to be boxy, low-heeled and sturdy.

If the equipment isn't cleaned properly, you could be at risk for infection when you get a pedicure.

If the equipment isn't cleaned properly, you could be at risk for infection when you get a pedicure.

So it probably doesn't surprise you to learn that when it comes to pedicures, I am hardly a nail salon enabler.

Unfortunately, in some sort of twisted cosmic comedy, both my teen and my tween daughters are pedicure addicts.

To pedicure addicts, there is nothing better than being seated in those massive padded massage chairs, chin deep in fashion magazines, while some woman bathes, chisels, files and paints their toes.

And up until now, the only thing I worried about was how much the extra flower motif on her big toe was going to cost me.

Now, I have plenty of other stuff to worry about.

Dr. Dina Tsentserensky, a podiatrist in New York, made it clear.

"I definitely see patients that have had problems as a result of getting a pedicure," she said. "I guess the most common is fungal nails."

Fungal nails!!! I really don't want to pay for that.

The National Institutes of Health, unfortunately, describes fungal nail in less-than-clear terms: Fungal nail infection is an infection of the nails by a fungus.

Prescription treatments are only about 50 percent effective, and most of these infections usually require the loss of the infected nail itself, the NIH Web site says.

Cuts, scrapes and some other infections are also common results of seemingly soothing foot romps. Tsentserensky thinks it's nothing new.

"I think it's a chronic problem that has been going on for a while," she said. "People just maybe chose to ignore it or don't pay attention as much as they should." Video Health for Her: Watch more on pedicure safety »

Anyone who did pay attention could have known about some of those risks eight years ago. That's when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported finding a nasty infection that hit more than 100 pedicure patients. The culprit: a less-than-sterile footbath screen. The result: an infection called mycobacterium fortuitum.

That mouthful of a malady left these customers, most of them women, with prolonged boils on their lower legs and some long-term scars. Although that report prompted nail salons to clean the screens on those foot baths more often, it doesn't mean that in the land of pedicure pampering, you can just relax and enjoy the polishing.

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  • Fungal nail infections

Tsentserensky's chief advice is to be on high cleanliness alert.

"I tell patients to make sure that the bathtubs are being cleaned properly, that they are using enough time in between so the disinfectant has time to work," she said.

And the magic timeframe, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is about 10 minutes between clients. The EPA also stresses that to ensure the safest conditions, the tubs need to be cleaned with an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant, which means the bottle itself will have a EPA registration number listed somewhere on the label.

But it's not just the tubs that need to be clean. So do those instruments.

"Make sure that instruments are getting sterilized properly," Tsentserensky cautions, "that they are using a sterilizer or an autoclave to properly sanitize the instruments or using the liquids for the proper periods of time."


Timing is also important, but that's a condition that's on your side. Don't get a pedicure right after you've shaved your legs, had laser hair removal or have any cuts or bites on your legs. Any opening in the skin is an invitation that you might not want to be extending.

And finally, make sure you can communicate with your nail technician to ensure he or she is taking the proper precautions to make your pedicure a stress-free experience and, more important, to ensure that the only thing you're taking with you when you leave that salon is the pretty polish.

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