In recent months the public has been bombarded by reports in newspapers and magazine articles and on TV news segments covering sanitation in nail salons. Some are positive, some negative, but all have the same underlying theme on salon cleanliness: Client beware!

“When the last news segment came out in our area about nail salons using the same nail files and drill bits on all their clients, that’s all people asked us about for months,” remembers Greg Tosti, owner of Nail Depot, a Deerfield, Fla. based chain of six salons. “They’re still asking.”

“Consumers have an increasing level of awareness for sanitary practices because of beauty and fashion magazines, and news coverage, and the nail technician leaders in our industry know that these clients are looking for in a salon,” notes Athena Elliott, NAILS’ 1998 Nail Technician of The Upper Hand in Houston. “And it’s a two-way street. Techs do many clients a day. Good sanitation practices protect us as well.”

“Consumer interest is increasing because the media has focused on this topic,” adds Cathy Neben, owner of Houston based Hair Spa, NAILS’ 1998 Salon of the Year with 5+ technicians. “There was a time in the not-too-distant past when consumers who frequented ‘unsafe’ salons were aware but unresponsive because they didn’t know what proper sanitation was or to whom they could complain. Media interest has given control back to the client, and the financial impact is forcing the nail industry to clean up its act.”

Increasingly, salons are not just cleaning up their act, they’re polishing it and putting it on display by prominently mentioning their sanitation and disinfection procedures in their advertising and by reinforcing its importance to clients by preaching what they practice, using everything from manufacturer-provided window decals to salon created educational pamphlets to get the message across to clients.

Have a Clean Salon? Shout It Out

After having been the one to push her state board to upgrade its sanitation and disinfection regulations for nail technicians, Nancy King, owner of Nail Care in Laurel, Md., can do no less than follow the law to the letter, and she does so happily. “Before and after each service I completely submerse my implements in a hospital-grade disinfectant,” explains the 19-year industry veteran. “And as part of the service, I wash my implements each time I use them and keep them in a glass bead sterilizer when I’m not using them on a client”

Like many nail technicians and salon owners, King is passionate about her clients’ safety as well as her own. For this reason, she has lobbied her state board for new and more stringent regulations, and she’s also worked with the local media to produce consumer awareness segments on what clients should look for — and beware of — in a salon. And she’s not ashamed to admit her business also has benefited from her efforts.

“Those of us who are conscientious about sanitation can capitalize on it tremendously,” she says. “Discount salons cannot use the products and disinfection practices we do and keep their prices where they are, and I believe in time, consumers will stop going there because of the issue.”

To keep the issue top-of-mind with potential customers, King promotes her sanitation and disinfection practices on her business card and on her salon brochure — she even has it lettered in the front window.

Dr. Ken Gerenraich, a podiatrist and president of Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Woodward Labs, encourages all salons practicing stringent sanitation to follow King’s lead. “There is so much negative publicity about salons being unsanitary that if I were a nail tech today, I would do whatever it takes to be known as the cleanest salon in town. Leaving each client with the impression that not only did you do a good job on her nails right now but that you did something to stop the spread of disease is a priceless marketing tool.”

According to Becky Moore, owner of Just Nails in Erlanger, Ky., sanitation practices is usually one of the first things callers ask about. Of course, that might be because she prominently promotes her sanitation practices in her yellow pages advertising. “When clients are price-checking in the yellow pages, I want them to ask about sanitation, and many times that’s a big draw to them,” she says. At her appointment, each new client receives her own copy of the salon’s “Sanitation Promise” along with a hand care handout. The Promise details the salon’s use of clean towels and sanitized files, that clients and technicians wash their hands before a service, and how the salon follows state board regulations, among other things. Additionally, window decals and a tent card on each station tell clients about the salon’s disinfection system.

“Usually, one or two things from our Sanitation Promise stick in their mind and they’ll ask things like, ‘Why isn’t food allowed at the nail station?’ or, ‘What is hospital-grade disinfection?’“ Moore says.

Likewise, Rosemary Weiner, owner of The Brass Rose, a new spa and salon in Blairstown, N. J., presents new nail care clients with a professionally printed copy of her “Infection Control & Nail Services” pamphlet, which describes in depth the steps nail technicians take to protect clients. “The majority of our implements are disposable,” clients are assured in the pamphlet. “They are used one time only. When the service is done, they are either given to the client to take home or are thrown away. They are never used again on another client.” Non-disposable implements, on the other hand, “are washed and scrubbed with disinfectant, rinsed, and placed in a sealed pouch, which goes into the autoclave.”

“I made a commitment to create a very safe environment,” Weiner explains. “I felt it was worth the extra investment because clients would feel safer and wouldn’t be looking to go to chop shops.”

Is Sterilization the Next Step?

Weiner isn’t alone in adopting sterilization methods as the cleanliness standard for implements in her spa. With the introduction of a new autoclave system marketed specifically to the nail industry, their numbers may very well multiply in the near future. While sterilizing salon implements is both above and beyond all state board requirements and is deemed unnecessary in salons by many disease experts, salon owners and nail technicians favouring sterilization over standard disinfection methods say autoclave sterilization provides them with a great marketing tool to gain new clients, as well as assure current clients of their professionalism and cleanliness.

“When potential clients drop in, our technicians are encouraged to explain what sets us apart from other salons while handing them one of our dental bags with sterile implements in it,” Elliott says. “We include our sanitation practices on all of our brochures, gift certificates, and direct-mail pieces.”

“Cross-contamination is probably a bigger issue than whether to use EPA- registered hospital-grade disinfectant or an autoclave for sterilization,” says Dr. Michael E. Neben, an anesthesiologist familiar with salon operations through his wife’s (Cathy Neben) salon.

“Cross-contamination can occur with either method [disinfection or sterilization] when an implement touches a non-sterile surface prior to use on a client. In the operating room, we maintain a sterile field to prevent this from happening.” In the salon, of course, it’s impossible to maintain sterile surfaces.

Brian Folino, national marketing and sales director for Oxnard, Calif.-based Dux (which offers an autoclave to the beauty industry), takes a different view. “Twenty years ago, the argument in the dental industry was that it was not a sterile industry. Federal agencies like the FDA, EPA, and OSHA are constantly revising and updating their requirements, and just because they don’t require it now doesn’t meant they won’t at some time. Every industry that deals with poking and pricking the skin sterilizes the instruments, except the beauty industry. This is something we see coming.”

And some salons are more concerned with client perception than the actual need for sterilization. “I’m competing with [other discount] salons, and I don’t think they’re going to go in this direction,” Tosti says. “I have to create better value for my clients, and sterilization is an edge.”

Neben, cautions against overplaying it at the expense of other areas. “There is so much more to doing nails safely than just saying we have an autoclave or that we use an EPA-registered disinfectant If you don’t disinfect the work surface or change your towel, if you drill or file too deeply on the nail or get monomer all over the client’s skin, you have just ren­dered the nail service unsafe.”

From the manufacturer’s perspective, both sides argue the pros and cons of each system. For example, disinfectants are less expensive to purchase and to maintain. A pint of concentrated disinfectant makes 64 quarts of disinfectant, which lasts an average of six months in the salon. An autoclave, on the other hand, costs approximately $1,000, plus 10 cents-12 cents per client for the sterile pouch. And, disinfectants take less time: 10 minutes of total submersion disinfects an implement, while an autoclave takes about 30 minutes to sterilize one. With the additional time required comes a need for additional implements to ensure you never keep a client waiting because you don’t have a clean implement.

On the other hand, autoclaves take all the questions out of whether the disinfectant needs changing. All you do is put the water in, insert the implements, and press a button. Additionally, there are no chemicals to handle or dispose of. (There are a few brands of disinfectants that can be disposed of down the drain.)

Rather than seeing such debates, however, Gerri Cevetillo, group manager for Ultronics (Mahwah, N. J.), would prefer to see more salons in compliance with their basic state board regulations. “That’s far more important than putting in a fancy piece of equipment,” she notes. “If the implements are not properly pre-cleaned, sterilization doesn’t work so it’s not a shortcut, it’s an extra step.”

Even more importantly, however, the salons we talked to emphasized that salon cleanli­ness encompasses much more than whether your implements are clean and how they got that way. “Salons tend to get concerned about sanitation at the client level but then they don’t use good practices throughout,” Moore notes. “Products and implements go from the storage room to the work station and to other places in the salon, and you have to look at the big picture.”

Soap and water: Essential to salon cleanliness and the underpinning of all salon sanitation practices; used in the salon to sanitize both technician’s and client’s hands as well as pre-clean tools and implements to remove dirt and debris as well as a high percentage of pathogens.

Ultrasonic cleaners: Used in combination with a disinfectant, they increase the cleaning action to ensure the removal of all debris and can I help ensure the disinfectant reaches into all cracks and crevices.

Glass bead sterilizer: The tips of implements are inserted into a basin of glass beads that have been heated to a very high temperature. Their efficacy has been questioned, however, because the glass beads do not come into contact with the entire surface of the implement and some parts of the implement (in the joints, for example) may not be exposed to enough heat if the implement is not properly opened before insertion. According to the International Guild of Professional Electrologists, the volume 45, No. 261 issue of the Federal Registry states that glass bead units present “a potential unreasonable risk of illness or injury to the patient because the device may fail to sterilize dental instruments adequately.” Industry experts recommend against their use in salons.

Alcohol: While it is sometimes used to sanitize implements and hands, alcohol is a poor substitute for soap and water Disadvantages for salon use are its flammability, ineffectiveness as a disinfectant, and harshness on implement finishes.

Dry fumigants: Required by some states to be used in conjunction with dry storage of disinfected implements, dry I fumigants emit a formaldehyde vapor that is intended to destroy pathogens in a closed container Formaldehyde is highly allergenic and a suspected carcinogen and it’s highly recommended you avoid inhaling these vapors at any cost.

EPA- registered disinfectants: Inclusive of everything from hospital level to AIDS- and hepatitis to tuberculocidal disinfectants, from multi-phase quarts to phenolics; the varied EPA-registered disinfectants are differentiated not by effectiveness but by the type of testing done on them, While there is some disagreement among manufacturers of these products about which should be used in the salon, technicians should take into consideration the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, which requires complete immersion of the affected implement for 10 minutes in a disinfectant that is effective against HIV-1 and human hepatitis B virus or that is tuberculocidal as well as their own state board requirements.

Autoclave: Autoclaves use pressurized steam to destroy microorganisms and sterilize implements; not required or necessary for implements used in I the salon. The process takes approximately 30 minutes, and implements must be sanitized by washing with soap and water (just as you would before disinfecting) prior to insertion in the autoclave. Implements come out conveniently stored in an airtight sterile pack, in which they can remain until the next service.

Quick Review of Terms

Antiseptic: A substance that prevents or arrests the growth or action of microorganisms on living skin by inhibiting their activity or destroying them.

Disinfection: To kill all microorganisms except bacterial or fungal spores on inanimate surfaces such as tools and implements; to be disinfected, an object must first be sanitized. Disinfectants are, by their very “nature, toxic and are for use only on inanimate objects anal not on the skin.

Sanitation: To wash a surface with soap and water to remove dirt and debris and reduce the number of pathogens to levels considered safe by public health standards.

Sterilization: A process that destroys all living organisms, including spores, on an object or surface.


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