This illustration shows the phases of biofilm growth. Illustration courtesy of Montana State University Center for Biofilm Engineering

This illustration shows the phases of biofilm growth. Illustration courtesy of Montana State University Center for Biofilm Engineering

Simply put, biofilm is an accumulation of standing water. As water finds a resting place and stays for long periods of time, it will begin to harden and form what we know as biofilm. In technical terms, biofilm is comprised of microorganisms in which cells stick to each other and/or a surface. Biofilm is sometimes described as “cities for microbes.”

This was — and still can be — a big problem in circulating foot baths. With earlier pedi spa technologies, we saw that the tubing would allow water to build up in the pipes, harden, and create an environment for bacteria and fungi to form. As warm water was circulated back through the same pipe, it would then loosen the biofilm, dumping bacteria and fungi into the tub. Once this was discovered, pipeless tubs began to surface on the market.

This photo of sand biofilm shows bacteria growing on a single grain of sand. Image courtesy of the Lewis Lab at Northeastern University. Image created by Anthony D’Onofrio, William H. Fowle, Eric J. Stewart, and Kim Lewis.

This photo of sand biofilm shows bacteria growing on a single grain of sand. Image courtesy of the Lewis Lab at Northeastern University. Image created by Anthony D’Onofrio, William H. Fowle, Eric J. Stewart, and Kim Lewis.

However, there is a misconception about the cleaning of these pipeless tubs. Biofilm can still form on the impellers and inside the bottom of the tub if it is not cleaned and disinfected properly.

The buildup of biofilm and improper cleaning and disinfection techniques creates many problems. When a technician has a client in her chair with any slight opening of the skin, bacteria can penetrate these “portals of entry” and cause infection, which can lead to serious illness.

Something as innocent as shaving one’s legs before a pedicure can cause a lifetime of illness and scarring if a client is serviced in a foot bath that has been improperly cleaned and disinfected. I’m a firm proponent of a client consultation not just prior to the service, but at the reception desk — if for no other reason than advising your client not to shave.

When it comes to foot care, we have to do everything we can to protect not only the client, but ourselves as well. One infected client can change your life forever.

The way to protect yourself and your client from biofilm is very simple: Exceed your state’s recommendation for cleaning and disinfection.

1. Know what exactly your state requires and do better.

2. Know and implement all the steps for proper cleaning and disinfection.

3. Know the products you are using — their efficacy, their contact time, and what types of pathogens they will and won’t kill.

4. Train your team to be proficient and consistent in your cleaning and disinfection procedures.

5. Educate yourself and educate your client.

CJ Murray is a licensed nail tech and the president of Largo, Fla.-based Centre for Beauty Salon Supply (www.cjscentreforbeauty.com) which provides foot care products to the salon professional.