I got the third pedicure of my life during my sophomore year in college.
I had nailed final exams and was kicking back until I could drive home for the summer. To reward myself, I pooled my daily bagel fund to splurge for that spa pedicure—but I ended up getting a bit more than I paid for.
And not in a good way.
The salon I chose was right around the corner from my apartment, was decorated like a high-end hotel lobby, and had reasonable prices. So, I booked an appointment and thought no more of it.
When I arrived at my scheduled time, I was seated in a magical massage chair right away. Even to this day, I remember thinking, “I’m surprised no one else is here.”
I proceeded to get my pedicure and all the works that come with having your feet pampered for 30 minutes. The end result looked great and I was satisfied—until a few weeks later when I removed that polish.
My toenail was sore, itchy, and felt like I was constantly cramming my foot into a pair of flats that were half a size too small. I rubbed off that luxurious paint to see the bottom corner of my nail was dark brown. Unfortunately, this was not leftover nail polish.
I’ll spare you the rest of the nasty toenail details. If you haven’t caught on, I had gotten myself a fungus along with that pedicure. Now, on the rare occasion that I book a pedi, I look into a bit more than the décor and pricing.
Here’s a few things to check out when booking any salon service.
Clean workstations and tools.
In my case, things looked pretty immaculate. I didn’t, however, see the tools my technician used dipped in any kind of cleaner beforehand. You want to actually see the person clean their tools before touching you with them.
And keep an eye out on what they do once they’re finished, since the person likely followed the same routine before you sat down. Don’t think of yourself as the first person there even though you’re the one being worked on. If you’re a regular, consider investing in your own set of tools. Then it’s guaranteed that no one else’s feet germs have touched them.
Bonus: Check the places that don’t matter to get a sense of their cleanliness. Are things dusty? Is the floor clean in the waiting area? Does it look like they never take out the trash cans? And how about those magazines, are they from 2001?
Double check that nail polish.
You should also remember that the brush in that perfect shade of OPI polish you chose has touched hundreds of other fingers and toes. You can bring your own polish, but if you enjoy the spontaneity of picking from a salon’s offerings, avoid the bottles that look worn or half full. Nail polish goes a long way, and if half of it is gone, imagine how many times it’s been dipped back in after touching someone’s nails.
Bonus: If you’re a regular, pay attention to how often they toss those older bottles. If it’s your first time in, look for chunks inside the polish or dust on the lids.
Skip the cuticle trim.
When you think of this step in the pedi as slicing off a protective layer of skin before layering on polishes that have touched other people’s feet, it sound pretty gross. But that’s exactly what happens. Without that (sometimes annoying) layer to protect you, any germs on the tools or in the polish go right into your nail bed—especially if you get a little cut while the person is working.
Bonus: If you get it done, ask for a swab of alcohol before and after. You can also just ask them to push the skin back without removing it so you still get a smooth line of paint at the bottom of your nail.
Check for certifications.
It may be strange to roll up demanding credentials, so don’t do that. You should, however, be able to see up-to-date certifications by each technician’s station. If they share the main floor, like most salons do, you can casually ask before they get the water going. In some cases, these will also be displayed in the waiting area or by the register, which is a good sign.
Bonus: If grilling a tech about their experience and credentials makes you uncomfortable, you can always pretend you’re interested in the process for yourself.
Treat your infection correctly.
As a college sophomore, I didn’t have the guts to call and let the place know. But now that’s it’s happened to me once, I certainly would if it happened again. Luckily, my toe just needed a ton of cleaning and antibiotic creams. My nail didn’t fall off and the infection was contained to one nail. According to the Cleveland Clinic, potential nasties can come in the form of viral infections, fungal infections, and bacterial infections—which all require a different treatment approach.