15 Secrets Your Nail Salon Won’t Tell You

Getting a manicure or pedicure is about more than just picking the perfect color of nail polish. The salon industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. While some nail salons go above and beyond when it comes to sanitizing equipment and delivering excellent customer service, others find ways to cut corners that could be hazardous to your health. Whether you’re a salon regular or you only treat yourself to a mani/pedi for a special occasion, there’s a lot you don’t know about nail salons.

1.  They won’t turn away a customer

Nail specialist doing a pedicure
Pedicures | yacobchuk/iStock/Getty Images

This may sound like a good thing at first. After all, if you’re desperate for a manicure, it’s nice to know you won’t get turned away, right? The bad news is, they won’t turn away customers who are sick or who have nail fungus in their feet or hands. These people could be sitting next to you or they could have sat in your chair before you.

As long as the nail salon practices safe sanitation practices, you probably aren’t in any danger. If your salon is one that skimps on hygiene and sanitation, though, you could get sick soon after you get your nails done.

Next: You don’t need to see blood to be at risk.

2. Your skin is open to infections

Hand with cut covered by bandaid
Hand with bandaged finger | PeJo29/iStock/Getty Images

Just because there isn’t blood doesn’t mean you don’t have a cut. It’s common to get small nicks and cuts right in the salon, and they don’t all draw blood. For instance, if your nail ever feels too hot in a corner after it gets filed, then your surface layer has been broken, leaving you susceptible to infections.

If you have paper cuts, insect bites, split cuticles, or even hangnails, you have broken surface-layer skin that can get infected.  

Next: Stop being so paranoid already.

3. You aren’t interesting enough for them to talk about

Happy woman at the nail salon
Woman getting a manicure | nd3000/iStock/Getty Images

If you’ve ever gotten a pedicure in a nail salon where all the employees are speaking to each other in another language and wondered what they’re saying about you, you can relax. They’re not talking about you. They’re probably talking about the same things you talk to your co-workers about — local gossip, the weather, last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. Your feet aren’t interesting enough to warrant a cross-salon conversation. And if they are, well, they’ll let you know. In English.

Next: Here’s the only way to know that your equipment is sterilized.

4. An autoclave is the only 100% effective sterilization solution

Autoclave for sterilization
Autoclave | Fly_dragonfly/iStock/Getty Images

All salons have some form of sterilizer to disinfect their tools and equipment, but the only one that’s 100 percent effective is an autoclave. Only three states require nail salons to have autoclaves — New York, Iowa, and Texas. If you aren’t in one of these states, you’ll have to ask the salon manager what they use to sterilize equipment.

You can also pay attention to the pouches the salon uses for their equipment. If they use an autoclave, then the tools will be placed in color changing pouches that are sealed and opened right in front of you before they’re used.

Next: Don’t get too comfortable with your salon’s sanitation practices, though.

5. Not all tools can be sanitized

Woman filing her nails
Woman filing her nails | AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images

If your salon uses an autoclave, you might think you’re in the clear. But not so fast. Only metal tools can go into the autoclave, which means only metal tools can be reused. Non-metal tools such as emery boards, nail buffers, pumice stones, and foam toe separators should be new for each customer. It can be difficult to tell if this is the case in your salon, so bring your own just in case.

Next: Think twice before paying for this add-on.

6. Callus removal is usually unnecessary

Customer having their feet filed
Customer having feet filed in a salon | YakobchukOlena/iStock/Getty Images

Salons will often try to sell you callus removal as an upcharge. It sounds good, but it isn’t always necessary. In fact, it can even be harmful. Athletes, for instance, actually benefit from calluses since they can help their performance by making their feet tougher. If you aren’t an athlete, then you can get your calluses removed if they’re uncomfortable. Your feet should be soaked and scrubbed before the calluses are removed.

If you decide to get your calluses removed, opt for the chemical or scrubbing option. Don’t let your nail technical shave or cut your skin, since that will open up your skin and leave room for infection.

Next: Know which products are the least toxic to your health.

7. Your nail salon might be toxic

Woman getting a manicure
Manicurist wearing a mask | Nemanja Jovanovic/iStock/Getty Images

If the nail technicians in your salon wear face masks, chances are it’s because they’re breathing in toxic fumes that, over time, can lead to serious health problems. In the short term, they might get headaches and feel nauseous. In the long term, they might have more serious health issues, including reproductive health problems.

Some nail salons use toxic products to cut costs. While some states, such as New York, have implemented new requirements for ventilation in nail salons, others haven’t. And even with new ventilation requirements, your salon can still use toxic products.

The best way to avoid this is to patron a salon that only uses 3-free and 5-free products.

Next: This is one luxurious treatment you might want to reserve for home.

8. Your footbath probably isn’t clean

Spa Treatment
Rinsing feet in a foot baths | Bill Oxford/iStock/Getty Images

Those whirlpool footbaths are many people’s favorite part of getting a pedicure, but the unfortunate truth is that they are really hard to clean. Almost all the footbaths examined in a Center for Disease Control study had bacteria growing, regardless of whether the footbath was disinfected and whether there was visible debris left behind. If you have a cut or scrape on your foot, you’re at a higher risk for infections. Bacteria is most likely to linger in the jets, so insist on not having the jets turned on during your soak.

Next: Here’s an excuse to skip shaving.

9. Don’t shave right before your appointment

Woman shaving her leg
Woman shaving | Radnatt/iStock/Getty Images

You can nick and cut yourself shaving without realizing it, and, as we’ve already discussed, these nicks and cuts can open you up to infections, especially if there are bacteria in your foot bath or your salon doesn’t use an autoclave.

A lot of women shave right before a pedicure because they don’t want their pedicurist to see or feel their hair. But pedicurists are professionals who really don’t care if you have some stubble. Keep yourself protected, and don’t shave right before your appointment.

Next: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

10. Some salons charge hidden costs

Manicurist displaying a nail polish
Nail technician presenting a product | Mark_KA/iStock/Getty Images

Be wary of saying “yes” if your manicurist or pedicurists asks you if you want things like a base coat or nail strengthener. These seemingly benign questions could really be asking if you want to pay more money. A lot of salons will charge customers for “add-ons” without letting them know they’re an add on until they see the final bill.

Ask for a complete price list before agreeing to any treatments. If your manicurist suggests adding something on during your appointment, clarify whether it’s included in the treatment or if it’s an add on. You might agree to have it done anyway, but at least you’ll know what you’re getting into.

Next: Looks can be deceiving.

11. They might swap out bottles and solution

Pedicure station
Salon products | LUNAMARINA/iStock/Getty Images

Some salons will use luxury brand bottles for display purposes and fill them up with generic brand solutions and lotions to actually use on their clients. This lets them charge you for the luxury brand while they only spend a small amount on the cheap stuff. It can be nearly impossible to tell whether you’re getting the real deal or not when you’re at the salon. The only way to know what’s really in a bottle is to bring your own.

Next: Another good reason to bring your own polish.

12. They can dilute nail polish

Nail polish bottles in a salon
Bottles os nail polish | Godong/UIG via Getty Images

When nail polish gets too exposed to the air, it can get clumpy and hard to work with. Instead of tossing a bottle and getting a new one, some nail salons will simply dilute the old bottle of nail polish with nail polish remover. This makes the nail polish less effective and more likely to chip early. You can bring your own bottle of nail polish to the salon with you to ensure you’re getting quality nail polish. This move will also prevent cross-contamination from all the previous salon clients who have used that bottle of nail polish.

Next: This nail trend might be riskier than it’s worth.

13. Dipping your nails is a bad idea

Dip manicure
Nail powder | Berezandr/iStock/Getty Images

The main problem with dipping your nails is that the dip is used by other clients. So, when you physically dip your nails into the powder, you’re exposing your nails and hands to bacteria and germs that could have been left there from other clients. Even pouring powder on your nails and then letting the residue fall back into the container can cause cross-contamination.

If you want to get your nails dipped, make sure the nail salon you go to paints the product on your nails. This is the most hygienic way to get your nails dipped.

Next: These look pretty but they can cause permanent damage to your nails.

14. Acrylic nails are bad for you

Full set of fake nails
Fake nails | Natkinzu/iStock/Getty Images

Nail salons don’t want you to know that those expensive acrylics are wreaking havoc on your natural nails. Getting acrylics once in a while for a special occasion won’t cause permanent damage. But regularly getting acrylics can leave your nails brittle and frail. Soak off gel nails are better for you than acrylics since they’re more flexible and can make it less likely that your nails will crack. Your nails will repair themselves in between artificial nail treatments, so make sure to take time off instead of having artificial nails on at all times.

Next: You’ll be surprised that this salon staple is actually bad for you.

15. Don’t cut your cuticles

Manicure spa treatment
Pushing back cuticles| GluckKMB/iStock/Getty Images

Usually when you get a manicure, you’ll soak your fingers to soften your cuticles. Then, during the manicure, your manicurist will cut your cuticles. This is actually a step that you should skip. Cuticles protect your nails and skin, so cutting them will make it easier for bacteria and germs to creep into your skin. Ask your manicurist to just push your cuticles back instead of cutting them, and opt for a dry manicure to make your manicure last longer.