Despite major public information campaigns about how AIDS is transmitted, there is still a great deal of unnecessary fear among salon workers and clients about AIDS in the salon. Although you should practice sanitation procedures as though your life depended on it, you should also rest assured that the possibility of contracting AIDS from salon services is extremely low. In fact, there are no registered cases of salon-transmitted AIDS.

Doctors say that bacteria, viruses, and hepatitis B are much more likely to be passed from salon client to client or from client to nail technician than the HIV virus, which causes AIDS.

The AIDS virus is carried in blood, semen, and saliva and is transmitted only through intimate body contact: sex, sharing intravenous drug needles, transfusing contaminated blood, or passing from mother to child during pregnancy or by breast-feeding. It is not transmitted simply by using a dirty cuticle pusher on a client.

Natural Barriers

Orville J. Stone, M.D., a dermatologist in Huntington Beach, Calif., says, “I think the risk for technicians is just above zero. Intact skin is a barrier.” Kay Golan, spokesperson for The National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga., agrees, saying there have been no reported cases of AIDS transmitted in a beauty salon.

AIDS is communicable disease, not a contagious disease. This means that while AIDS can be transmitted from one person to another, it is not transmitted from one person to another, it is not transmitted through simple contact, like the common cold. To transmit AIDS in the salon would require “compound errors,” says Stone. “You’re talking about nicking the client and then nicking yourself.”

To pass the virus from an infected client to the technician, both people would have to have open wounds, and the client’s blood (or other body fluid) would have to come in contact with the technician’s exposed open wound. A technician could transmit the virus from an infected client to another client if she used an instrument contaminated with blood, and the instrument came in contact with an exposed open wound.

Stay on Your Toes

Knowing how relatively safe the salon is will help you ease client’s fears, but do not let this knowledge make you become complacent. One salon owner we spoke to said, “We don’t really worry about AIDS. There are so many products to address it, and we know our clients.”

But how well do you really know your clients? “People can carry the HIV virus for two to three years before it turns into AIDS,” says Golan, underscoring the need for universal precautions with all clients in salon sanitation.

Stone adds that no matter how well you know a client, you don’t know all the details of that client’s life. He suggests that technicians exercise extreme care in the salon even though the risk of AIDS is so slim. He shares his own office ritual: He wears gloves with every patient and practices as though every patient actually had AIDS.

Don’t Neglect the Basics

Common sense and board safety compliance should keep your salon free of most diseases, including the deadly AIDS virus. Always disinfect implements immediately after each use, no matter what. The California State Board of Cosmetology requires that all non-electrical instruments with a sharp point or edge that could pierce the skin and draw blood (excluding haircutting shears) to be disinfected by cleaning the instrument with soap and water and then immersing it in a closed container at 70% isopropyl alcohol for at least 10 minutes. Seventy percent isopropyl alcohol is required for instruments with sharp points or edges because, says the points or edges, such as cuticle pushers, be cleaned with soap and water and then totally immersed for at least 10 minutes in 70% isopropyl alcohol or an EPA registered disinfectant with demonstrated bactericidal, fungicidal, and virucidal activity in a closed container. Cosmetology board regulations differ from state to state, and some no longer approve isopropyl alcohol as disinfectant because it doesn’t kill all germs.

Disinfect the bits and burs of electric files just as you would nippers and metal cuticle pushers. Wipe down the body of an electric file with an EPA-registered disinfectant. Blood or tissue on a drill bit can be thrown through the air at the nail technician so do not use an electric file if you or the client has any exposed open wounds.

Wood cuticle sticks and non-sanitizable files should be disposed of after each use or be saved for that client’s service only. Says Sandra Vencill, supervising examiner for the California State Board of Cosmetology. “I’ve never seen someone use a file without it coming in contact with the skin, which means you’re in contact with bacteria and germs.” If you get blood on a file or wood cuticle stick, put it in a plastic bag marked “soiled” and throw it away.

Disinfect your work surface between clients. Germs can rest on the work surface, just waiting to hitch a ride on the next item that touches it (like the just-disinfected instruments).

Protect Yourself, Protect Others

Thoroughly wash your hands with an antimicrobial soap between clients. Wear gloves while working on clients. “You may not like it at first, but you do get used to it,” says Lois McNeil, program analyst for the California State Board of Cosmetology.

Some technicians say that wearing gloves makes the nail service impersonal because it creates a barrier between the technician’s and client’s skin. Some also complain that gloves hinder their ability to do the service. If you feel this way, you can wear gloves only when you or a client has a cut or broken skin on the hands or wrist. Always cover cuts or abrasions on your arms with plastic bandages.

“If the technician has any cuts, she should wear gloves,” says Lauber. “Gloves are like condoms for the fingers.”

Always let new clients know about what your salon does to prevent the transmission of diseases. Without scaring clients, assure them that you’re a “safe salon” because of your disinfection and sanitation procedures.

Effective Disinfection Tips

Disinfect implements immediately after use or put them in a receptacle clearly marked “soiled” to make sure they are not used accidentally before being cleaned. Wear gloves and use care when removing implements from this receptacle to avoid cutting yourself.

Wash implements with soap and water before submersing in disinfection solution to remove all traces of blood, tissue, oil, and debris.

Dry implements thoroughly before putting them in the disinfectant solution so the solution isn’t diluted.

Don’t waste time during the manicure service while the implements are being disinfected. Have backup implements on hand or disinfect implements while buffing nails and applying polish. Or, have technicians who aren’t working on clients disinfect and clean for everyone to minimize client waiting time.

Store clean implements in a clean covered area such as a drawer, container, or storage solution until their next use.

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