As a podiatrist, many of my patients have asked me, "Where can I get a safe pedicure?" I guess the first question is, what is a safe pedicure?
A safe pedicure is one in which the patient has a cosmetic treatment of feet and toenails which is unlikely to produce an infection. Many of you have heard horror stories in which your friends and family have experienced a pedicure which may have produced a bacterial or fungal infection in either the skin or toenails.
Here are 10 tips to a safe pedicure:
1. Inspect the facility for cleanliness: You should expect an environment which is free of untidy, dirty instruments or foot basins that do not appear to be properly cleansed and sanitized. Watch out for the repeated use of anything that touches your skin or nails.
2. Be sure to not use the recirculating jets in the foot bath: When water is recirculated through the pipes in a foot spa, the pipes cannot be guaranteed to be completely clean. They may harbor bacteria or fungus which can cause a potential infection. Use pipeless foot baths and preferably those with individual disposable liners to avoid cross-contamination.
3. Be sure the metal instruments used are sterilized before each client pedicure: Sterilization can be done by a cold treatment such as soaking in disinfectant solution. Preferably, these tools should be steam sterilized in an autoclave, like those used in operating room, to kill 100 percent of the bacteria or fungus. If ultraviolet lights are used, they require six hours to sterilize instruments, which is usually impractical for most salons.
4. If the instruments are nonmetal, they should be single use only: Nail files, pumices, nail buffers or orange wood sticks should be either brought by the client or only used once then discarded.
5. Be sure your pedicurist is not rounding off the corners of the toenail like a fingernail: Nails should be trimmed fairly straight across-never into the corners. Trimming down in the corners is more likely to produce an ingrown toenail.
6. Consider waiting two days after shaving your legs before getting a pedicure: When shaving, one produces micro tears in the skin which can allow bacteria to invade causing an infection. Of course, if one has any open sores on the foot or leg, pedicures are taboo. Wait until the wound is completely healed before considering a pedicure as infection is more likely to occur.
7. Communicate with your pedicurist: Be sure he/she knows exactly what you want or what you don't want them to perform. It's your feet and only you can protect them from any unintentional harm.
8. Individuals with diabetes, immune deficiencies such as HIV or AIDS or chemotherapy patients, poor circulation or vascular disease patients should consult a podiatrist or their physician before getting a pedicure to determine if it is safe.
9. It is usually safe for pregnant individuals to have a pedicure. If you are pregnant, and you have any doubt about the safety of a pedicure, check with your obstetrician. Swelling in the legs and feet can be improved with massage and caring for the nails properly can prevent infections especially ingrowing nails, which are more common due to foot swelling in pregnancy. Chemicals such as toluene, acetone and formaldehyde used in many nail polishes can be harmful if inhaled in large doses, so adequate ventilation is important. If pregnant, you should avoid polishes with toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate.
10. In order to provide safe pedicures for their patients, some podiatrists are incorporating medical nail spas into their practices.
We, at InStride Gaston Foot and Ankle have opened just such a spa. These facilities employ medical nail technicians who have additional medical training as well as intern with a podiatrist to ensure an exceptionally safe, sterile environment for their clients, while still providing that same special experience that helps to keep the feet healthy, relieve tension and stimulate circulation.
If there is ever a doubt as to whether a pedicure would be safe for you, it is always advisable to seek the opinion of your medical doctor or local podiatrist.
Safety should always be your first concern.
Dr. Dave Kirlin is a podiatrist at InStride Gaston Foot and Ankle in Gastonia.