Disinfection is a serious issue in the nail industry, and it’s one that confuses many a nail technician. Not only is it important that every nail salon practice a sanitation regiment in the first place, it’s important that the method of disinfection be thorough, simple, and cost-effective.

Some nail technicians use a glass bead sterilizer for their disinfection process because it is inexpensive and easy to use. Technicians should be aware, however, that many state boards don’t allow them as the primary method of disinfection. Even so, there is a place for glass bead sterilizers in the nail industry: They can be used as a backup for a technician’s regular disinfectant.


The glass bead sterilizer is a heat unit with a well that holds a cupful of tiny glass beads. When the nail technician arrives at the salon, she turns on the unit, which then heats to 450°F and above – hot enough to kill bacteria, fungi, viruses, and viral spores, manufacturers say.

When the unit reaches the appropriate temperature (in about 10 to 15 minutes), a light goes on. The nail technician takes her nippers or cuticle pusher and, holding the implement by the handle, dips it about an inch or so into the hot beads. After 10 to 15 seconds, manufacturers explain, the heat has killed the microorganisms on the portion of the implement that was dipped into the well. After allowing the nippers or pusher to cool, a nail technician can use it at her service.


Glass bead sterilizers have advocates who point to their use in the dental industry as proof of their appropriateness for the nail industry, and glass bead adversaries who say the use of a glass bead sterilizer leaves too much to chance.

One concern is that the temperature of the beads is unreliable. “There are concerns about the temperature variance within the unit,” says Jeff Weir, assistant executive officer I of the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. “It can’t be relied on for true sterilization.”

The July 1988 Initial Statement of Reasons for Changes to Board Disinfection and Sterilization Regulations, provided by the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, states. “The Board has been informed by disease control experts of the Department of Health Services that the glass bead sterilizer cannot be relied upon to produce true sterilization. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes that the device ‘presents a potential unreasonable risk of illness or injury to the patient because the device may fail to sterilize dental instruments adequately.’ (Federal Register, Vol. 45, No. 251, December 30, 1980). Currently, no data has been submitted to the FDA for the necessary evaluation for use of the glass bead sterilizer in other health or cosmetic-related fields.”

While the FDA doubts the ability of a glass bead sterilizer to sterilize instruments adequately, it also requires that a device claimed to be a germ-killer be registered. This requirement encourages manufacturers to test their glass bead sterilizers carefully to help ensure the integrity of their parts – and the accuracy of the temperature reading.

Ted Taylor Jr., vice president of T&S Dental (Myerstown, Pa.), says that his company tests all the glass bead sterilizers it manufactures in accordance with FDA standards, “We must be able to trace every part of each unit to its original source,” he says, “and we test the units to see what the temperature inside the well is when the light comes on and how long it took to get there.” Despite the care taken by the manufacturer to ensure proper performance, Taylor strongly emphasizes that a glass bead sterilizer is not meant to be used as a sole source of sterilization.

A second reason that glass bead sterilizers aren’t trusted by everyone in the nail industry is that they sterilize only the portion of the implement inserted in the well, leaving the handle still contaminated.

Advocates of the units, Taylor among them, counter by repeating that glass bead sterilizers are meant for backup only. They are not meant to sterilize an entire implement. Weir points out, “The California State Board does permit the use of a glass bead sterilizer during a single client’s service to prevent contamination from one hand to the other, for example. But between clients, the nail technician must use a board-approved disinfectant.”

Finally, adversaries argue that the round beads in the well cannot touch the entire surface of an implement with flat edges. “It’s true the beads don’t touch,” Taylor explains, “but the beads act only as carriers of heat. It’s the heat that kills the microorganisms, not the contact with the beads. If the beads are 500°F, then the spaces between the beads are also 500°F. The unit does subject the submerged part of the implement to high heat.”


If you own a glass bead sterilizer, you don’t need to throw it out. You just need to be sure the unit inhabits its correct place in the salon. If you’re using only a glass bead sterilizer and nothing else to disinfect implements, consider revamping your disinfection program.

The place of the glass bead sterilizer is as a backup unit, not as the only method of disinfection. “It’s very important that the glass bead sterilizer be used properly,” says Taylor. “That is, after the implements have been disinfected according to state board regulations, touch the end of the implement to the glass beads for 10 to 15 seconds. The glass bead sterilizer is designed to be backup assurance at a reasonable cost.”

Nail technicians need to remember that the glass bead sterilizer does not clean implements. “Some think it’s a cleaner,” says Jerry Mennicken, president of Mehaz International (Thousand Oaks, Calif.). “It is not a cleaning unit; it is strictly to sterilize. Only a clean metal implement should be inserted into the well.”

Even when using the unit during a single client’s service, it’s a good idea to wipe the implement clean before inserting it into the well. Change the beads regularly – Mennicken recommends at least once a year, but other manufacturers feel it is necessary two to four times a year.

The bottom line: Don’t expect more of your glass bead sterilizer than it can give you. It won’t clean your nippers and pushers – you will have to. It can’t disinfect entire implements – it’s up to you to follow your state board regulations. What the glass bead sterilizer can do is give clients an extra measure of assurance that you’re doing all you can to protect your health.


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