Common Violation: Employing an unlicensed individual
The Fix: You may be thinking that the only salons that get cited for this violation are willfully and purposely breaking the law. However, when was the last time you checked everyone’s licenses in your salon to confirm they haven’t expired? An expired license can easily get your salon fined too.
We’ve also heard from salon owners who inadvertently broke this law simply by not asking a prospective new tech to bring her license to her job interview, then later (after employment started), the hire revealed she didn’t have one. There are self-taught nail artists out there who create salon-quality nails but never went through a recognized nail program and don’t have a license. If you want to hire someone in this category, you may want to invest in this person’s schooling or offer this person an apprenticeship at your salon (if legal in your state) to help her get her license before she works for you.

Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation

Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation

Common Violation: Dirt or debris build up throughout the salon and other indications the salon isn’t clean and in good repair
The Fix: Some of the cleanliness violations inspectors see are so egregious that it’s a wonder these salons have any clients left. If this describes your salon, or if your salon is guilty of more “minor” violations like a stray hair in the disinfectant solution or a trash can that is too full and starting to overflow, it’s not too late for you. Consider hiring a cleaning crew to handle some of the general cleaning duties — such as taking the trash to the dumpster or washing towels — a few hours a week. Added bonus: Clients will appreciate your increased upkeep.

Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation

Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation

Common Violation: Failure to fully clean foot baths
The Fix: Though this falls under the salon being in disrepair, foot baths merit their own mention on this list. Many state boards include unclean foot baths as a separate violation and fine, above and beyond the fine for not keeping the salon clean. One common area nail techs miss is behind the removable parts, such as behind screens and impellers. As you can see in this photo, this area can get very, very dirty.
Also, many states require logging every pedicure spa cleaning, and a separate violation and fine may be levied for not writing down your cleanings. You can easily create your own log or print out a ready-made one from

Common Violation: Multi-use implements and tools not properly cleaned and disinfected prior to use on a client
The Fix: There are two kinds of tools commonly used in nail salons: non-porous (made of hard materials like metal, plastic, or glass) and porous (items of absorbent materials like cloth or wood). Non-porous items are generally multi-use, but in between uses you must both clean and disinfect them. To clean, wash with soap and water to remove all visible debris. To disinfect, immerse the cleaned item for 10 minutes in a state board-approved disinfectant. Always keep the disinfectant solution covered to prevent contamination, and change disinfectant at least once per week or when it is visibly cloudy or dirty. If you find yourself running out of implements before you can disinfect the dirty ones or you don’t have a spare if you drop one on the floor, it’s time to go implement shopping.

Common Violation: Re-using one-use items, like nail files
The Fix: So what about those porous items, like nail files, manicure sticks, wax sticks, cotton, paper towels, and buffer blocks? Because there’s no known way to fully clean and disinfect those, you’ve got to trash them (preferably in a covered bin). Do this immediately before you get them confused with your clean ones. Is throwing them away costing too much money? Try cutting the files and buffers in half or in smaller pieces (before use), then you only have to throw away the part you used. Or buddy up with a neighboring salon to get bulk discounts on these products from your supplier.

Next page: 5 more common violations and how to fix them


Common Violation: Failing to wash your hands or having your client wash her hands before the service
The Fix: This is one we’ve seen too many salons guilty of. The manicure or pedicure soak as the first step of the service does not count as hand washing. To ask your clients to wash their hands without offending them or implying that their hands are dirty, simply offer them a clean nail brush and say that soap, water, and the nail brush will help ensure their nail color will adhere better. Walk over to the sink with them and let them see that you’re washing your hands too, which is also a great time to make small talk.

Common Violation: Unlabeled containers
The Fix: Though it might be supremely obvious to you as to what is in the container, to comply with the regulations in many states you must label everything. Don’t let the state board cite you for failing to label something simple like cotton balls (perhaps they thought you were keeping cotton ball-textured marshmallows at your workstation?) or your spray can of water. On the plus side, this could be a great excuse to spend $20 on a label maker.

Common Violation: Possession of MMA
The Fix: In the early 1970s, MMA (methyl methacrylate) monomer was the main ingredient in many acrylic liquids. However, in 1978, the FDA found MMA to be unsafe for use in nail products due to a variety of health risks (including skin allergy and permanent loss of the nail plates) and because the resulting enhancements are too rigid (which can cause the natural nail to break). Plus, MMA-based enhancements are so difficult to remove that their removal generally results in damage to the client’s nail plates. So why, more than three decades later, are some salons still using MMA? In general, it’s because these unsafe products are cheaper. If you’re using an MMA monomer, switch to a reputable brand and increase your prices to cover the difference. (Trust us, it’s better than getting fined, which may be the least of your worries — you also risk being sued by an irate client.) If you’re a nail tech who’s in the position of  removing nail enhancements from another salon that were created using MMA, we encourage you to find out which salon applied the enhancement and report them to your state board to help eradicate the use of this dangerous product.

Common Violation: No photograph on license
The Fix: Many states require a Passport-sized photo that you must attach yourself. And sadly, a lot of techs forget to attach their photo (or, though we don’t like to think about it, don’t attach it on purpose in order to try to illegally “share” a license). Check your license and if it needs your photo, go ahead and attach it now. We’ll wait.

Common Violation: Safety Data Sheets not kept on premises
The Fix: Safety Data Sheets (formerly called Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDS) give you important instructions for how to use the product safely, first-aid solutions in case of an accident, and storage instructions. If you can’t find yours, go to the manufacturer’s website and print the sheets out and keep them in your salon. (If the manufacturer doesn’t have the sheets available online, call and ask for a copy.)

Thank you to the following state boards of cosmetology for providing lists of their top violations for this article: California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Virginia.

CHECK YOURSELF: offers a free self-inspection checklist that you can use to up your salon safety. Print it out at

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