Nail files are being closely scrutinized in California, and manufacturers and nail technicians are crying foul. Is the state’s regulating agency being fair in its seemingly sudden crackdown on proper file disinfection?
Editor’s note: In “Are Your Files Clean Enough?” (NAILS August 2001), we reported that the California Bureau of Barbering and Cosmetology was not fining nail techs who were properly disinfecting nail files — so long as they were Rudolph International files, which had been deemed disinfectable by the bureau at the time. The subject quickly prompted lots of debate from file manufacturers and nail techs who were confused about the seemingly sudden rash of citations and warnings, and the bureau’s attitude regarding file manufacturers and disinfection. In this article, we attempt to further clarify the situation for both nail techs and manufacturers and in the process, bring a better understanding to the subject of nail file disinfection.
Is the state of California unfairly fining nail technicians for not disinfecting files or not? Are files that have been manufactured to be “sanitizable” acceptable to use on multiple clients or not? Is the California Bureau of Barbering and Cosmetology favouring particular manufacturers and endorsing products or not? Do the laws on the books for cleaning files even apply to today’s salons or not? It all depends on whom you ask.
Ask Jim Rudolph, president of Rudolph International (Brea, Calif.), and it seems he was at once a leader in developing a protocol for testing files and just as quickly simply an opportunist trying to get his own product endorsed.
He insists that his files have passed the muster of laboratory testing that included soaking a foam core file in an EPA- registered disinfectant for one hour.
Ask Michael Megna, president of Elk Grove, Calif.-based Backscratchers Salon Systems (the company that makes Septifiles), or Geoff Geils, president of Greenwich, Ct.-based Flowery Beauty Products (maker of Purifiles), both major file makers in the professional beauty industry, and it seems that the state is unfairly favouring one manufacturer by seemingly endorsing one company that simply “got there first”
Ask Doug Schoon, director of research and development for Vista, Calif.-based Creative Nail Design, and he’ll state his disappointment in the bureau’s denial of endorsing any manufacturers’ products. “After receiving several complaints from nail technicians, I called the bureau myself and was told it was ‘endorsing exclusively” a specific manufacturer’s files,” says Schoon. “I believe the bureau acted improperly, even though it refuses to admit it. In my opinion, this raises serious and important questions about its credibility.”
Ask James Jacobs, supervising inspector for the bureau, or James Goldstene, bureau chief, and you get no direct answer, and instead get shifted to Rick Lopes, information officer for the bureau (neither Jacobs nor Goldstene would respond to repeated requests for interviews). Lopes insists that the inspection and citation policies haven’t changed in California and that any accusations of unfair play are unjustified.
Finally, ask Bernie Joyce Mulvey, a 17-year nail veteran who works at Sharon’s Rudy Shears in Sacramento, Calif., and the only thing that matters is the fact that she was cited for using — and disinfecting — the same brand of files she has been using for years.
Since NAILS first reported in August that several nail technicians had been cited for using files that they believed were disinfectable, there has been uproar and a rush to judgment by many. There are both readers and manufacturers who did not feel that NAILS presented a full picture of the issue in our first article. Here, we will present what has transpired in California since that first article, including behind the scenes information.
A Fair Chance
Although Lopes confirms that both Rudolph and Anaheim, Calif.-based INM were told that inspectors would not cite salons using their files while those companies’ lab results on file disinfection were evaluated, he is emphatic that that does not amount to an endorsement or a change in bureau policy.
“The bureau does not make any recommendations as to any brand name or as to any manufacturer’s brand of equipment, tools, and/or disinfectants or any other product that maybe used in an establishment or by one of the bureau’s licensees,” Lopes says. “Furthermore, the bureau and its staff do not recommend any brand and/or product over another for any tool, equipment, disinfectant, or any other item.”
But other manufacturers are crying foul. Geils says nail techs have been using his Purifiles (and placing them in a disinfectant solution for reuse) for years without encountering any problems.
“I’m crying foul that they didn’t say anything after salons have been using our files for 10 years without any incident. All of a sudden they’re no good?” he asks.
Megna also says he never encountered any problems from the bureau regarding the company’s Septifiles. In fact, when the files — a combination of disposable and non-disposable materials — debuted in 1996, Megna submitted information on them directly to the bureau (at that time, the state board). Megna received a letter stating that the Septifile, “when properly disinfected and used according to manufacturer instructions, may be used by bureau licensees in compliance with our regulations.”
Yet, he says he’s recently received a few calls from nail techs who were told by inspectors that they would be cited if they disinfected and reused a Septifile. “I’ve never had any problems with my files before,” Megna says.
The bureau is quick to point out that it has not changed its stance on nail files at any time. “The rules and regulations seem like they’re pretty straightforward,” Lopes says. “If someone has an emery board that can be lab tested and be approved by the California Department of Health Services (DHS), then salon owners won’t be cited if they’re following the proper procedures.”
Lopes says the reason the bureau said it would not fine nail techs for using Rudolph International files with the word “disinfectable” imprinted on them — and did not make mention of any other manufacturers’ files — was because Rudolph International was the first to approach the bureau. “Rudolph came to us. We didn’t go searching for companies who were trying to come up with disinfectable files,” Lopes says.
The fact that once the state received information on the “disinfectability” of files from a couple of manufacturers and didn’t give notice to other file makers that it was asking for lab reports irks many manufacturers. Further, though, because the state itself does not have a protocol or standard for what constitutes a disinfectable file, a discussion and input from industry experts in the field should have seemed logical. Several manufacturers say that the bureau hasn’t even provided criteria as to what it requires from manufacturers in terms of lab reports.
“I was given no protocol as to what the bureau expected me to prove could be killed. It didn’t even define disinfection,” Geils says. “I was just told I needed to show lab results proving my files I could be disinfected.”
Jon Rosenberg, a medical epidemiologist for the DHS, division of communicable disease control, says he’s suggested to the bureau that it look to the data requirements that the EPA has for showing efficacy of a disinfectant. “I’m not saying nail files merit that level of data,” he says. “What I told the bureau was that there should be some criteria used if it wants to enforce this regulation.”
To resolve some of the confusion and make manufacturers and distributors aware of what they need to do in order to get their files approved for disinfection and reuse, the bureau is holding a meeting on Oct. 23 in Sacramento, Calif. “We’re willing to work with anyone who comes to us,” Lopes says. “And if any of the manufacturers are interested in this issue they’ll attend the meeting.”
One person who will certainly be present at the October meeting is Rudolph, who says he’s tired of people thinking he’s taken advantage of the situation. “Why can’t people understand that we didn’t want to do this?” he asks. “We just did something and tried to help the salons from being fined. It just so happens that we were the first to do it.”
Disinfectable or Not?
Lopes explains that the bureau advised Rudolph International and INM that once their lab reports were submitted, and while the DHS conducted its review, inspectors would not cite any licensee who was properly using and disinfecting nail files deemed disinfectable that were produced by either company.
On Aug. 7, 2001 (which was after the article in the August 2001 issue was published), Lopes says the DHS notified the bureau that its initial review of the lab reports showed that both submissions were incomplete. The reports, the DHS says, did not provide enough evidence to prove the products could be disinfected, and citations for nail techs reusing Rudolph International and INM files resumed.
“Since the lab reports were not able to show at this time that the files can safely be disinfected, both companies were advised that bureau inspectors will cite nail techs if they find a violation f of Section 981a],” he says. Section 981a of the bureau’s rules and regulations states that all instruments and supplies that come into direct contact with a client and cannot be disinfected (cotton pads, sponges, and emery boards, for example) shall be disposed of immediately after use.
While a letter sent to Sherine Tate, marketing and education director of INM, by Jacobs does state that “this order was issued based upon the lab results you have submitted and will stay so ordered, unless proven otherwise,” Rudolph says he was informed his lab reports were fine.
“Our reports are irrefutable,” Rudolph says. “How can you refute them? They’re actual. The lab we used is EPA-, FDA-, and NIOSH-certified.”
According to Rosenberg, who examined both manufacturers’ lab reports, both reports were deemed incomplete for different reasons.
“One of the exams was sketchy and unprofessional,” Rosenberg says “The other one was more professional-looking, but it had an odd selection of tests. It’s a basic summary report. It doesn’t show actual data such as control samples. No standard test organisms were used, and they said they tested fungi, but the only actual results they summarized were for bacteria.”
In order to avoid any further confusion, Lopes says that even if a manufacturer submits lab reports to the bureau stating its files are disinfectable, the bureau will continue to cite nail techs for reusing them until the DHS reviews the reports and agrees with the findings.
Are Files Being Targeted?
What many manufacturers and nail techs keep asking themselves is why the bureau seems to have suddenly placed nail files under a microscope, so to speak.
“Here we are hammering away at salons to start disinfecting and this is the thanks we get,” Geils says. “Salons that are actually doing the disinfecting with good intent and have been using our product without issue are suddenly being told they’re doing it wrong.”
Tate says she believes the media’s focus on salons — especially unsanitary ones — is behind the bureau’s seemingly sudden focus on nail files.
The bureau, however, vehemently denies such a swing in attitude. “There hasn’t been an increase to go after nail techs,” Lopes says. “We’ll cite for anything our inspectors see is in violation of our rules and regulations. We don’t go out looking for specific things to cite for.”
Ask nail techs if they’re suddenly being targeted for not properly disinfecting their files, however, and they’ll give a different answer.
Jamie Whaling, a nail tech at The Nail Niche in Plymouth, Calif., says she has been disinfecting her files without any problems since she obtained her license in 1998. That procedure involves scrubbing the file with soap and water, placing it in a disinfecting solution for 10 minutes, air drying it, and then placing it in a clean container labeled as such. Not once did she encounter any problems until August of this year, when an inspector informed her the files she was using weren’t considered disinfectable and should be discarded after each use.
Whaling was given a $25 fine, but was told it would be waived if she corrected her violation. She called the bureau to voice her concern, but says she was told to write a letter of complaint “I’ve been cleaning my files the way I was taught in school,” she says. “Besides, it gets too expensive to use a new file on each client.”
She also teaches at a local vocational program and says she doesn’t know what to tell her students. “Nobody seems to have any valid options,” she says.
Mulvey, who uses Rudolph International files, says she asked the company to write Jacobs a letter stating that its files could be disinfected after she was cited. “But Jacobs wrote me back and said the word wasn’t sanitizable, it was disinfectable, and that the citation would stand as written.” She was finally cleared when Rudolph International sent its lab reports to the bureau.
Although she’s been cleared, Mulvey is still upset and says she feels the bureau is unfairly targeting salons. “I fought the citation because I’ve been doing this for 17 years and felt it was unfair,” she says. “They’re not going to other salons and busting them for using the same file on each client. I’ve never had any problems with fungus or any other problems as a result of reusing my files.”
Lopes says the bureau is not out to get manufacturers or nail techs, and hasn’t been at any time. “Our goal is to protect the consumers and make sure the products are safe,” he says. “We’re citing nail techs because they’re doing something wrong.”
Certainly part of the reason for the confusion on file disinfection is the fact that the terms sanitation and disinfection are often used interchangeably, which is incorrect. The bureau defines sanitation as basically washing something with soap and water. To disinfect means a nail tech is eliminating most virucidal, bacterial, or fungal spores (i.e. using an EPA-registered disinfectant with demonstrated bactericidal, fungicidal, and virucidal activity), on tools or implements.
Some nail manufacturers, however, refer to their files as sanitizable, yet claim they can be disinfected. Despite that claim, bureau inspectors are still citing salons for using files they say aren’t actually disinfectable. That’s where it gets confusing. The fact that the two terms have been used interchangeably for so long doesn’t help the situation. In fact, several people we spoke to for this article believe that the two terms basically mean the same thing.
Both Geils and Rudolph agree that the two terms mean two different things. “‘Sanitizable’ is a word that I believe is slowly going to disappear,” Rudolph says. “It’s confusing and contradictory. The word ‘disinfect’ is very clear in the rules and regulations of these states.”
“I’d certainly like for the confusion to clear up,” Tate says. “I teach my students these things.”
Lopes, however, says there’s nothing to clear up. “There hasn’t been any hedging on the bureau’s part regarding sanitation and disinfection,” he says. “People go through specific training regarding health and safety issues before they get their licenses. Our regulations are spelled out.”
And then there’s the fact that the bureau still follows regulations established in 1963. In fact, the state’s rules and regulations mention emery boards, which many people today take to mean the cheapest and most basic files on the market.
While Lopes says the bureau realizes times change and that new things and possibly new procedures are invented, many manufacturers and nail technicians don’t think the new types of nail files that have appeared on the market in recent years are being taken fully into account.
“In 1963, the intent of the law was to make sure people didn’t use wooden emery boards over and over. Since then, the law hasn’t changed,” says Michael Falley, CEO of Realys (Huntington Beach, Calif.). “Now the bureau gets in the middle and says, ‘OK, we’ve got these beautiful files that say they are washable, sanitizable, reusable, disinfectable, etc.,’ that they have no category for. They try to apply the old rules to the new stuff. As far as I’m concerned, Section 981a does not apply to anything other than wooden emery boards.
“If the bureau is going to make an assumption that there is an infection on the nail file and it needs to be disinfected, if s going to have to write a laws a nail tech specific to what it thinks is the proper disinfecting procedure for a piece of abrasive paper. It cannot be vague. It must be specific and give direction and tell what it means to be disinfected.”
In the end, the bureau stresses that what the whole situation comes down to is protecting the consumer. And with today’s consumers savvier than ever on salon health and sanitation — and disinfection — issues, it wants to make sure nail techs are up to par on proper disinfecting procedures.
“I would hope that nail techs would look beyond the short-term effect of being cited and look at the big picture, which is helping their clients,” says Lopes. “If they get a reputation for giving their clients fungus, then it won’t be good for their business. We certainly want salons to succeed.”