Some salons have even tried to attract new business with fish pedicures, an idea imported from some Asian countries in which a tiny variety of toothless carp nibble away the dead skin on feet and toes—replacing the abrasive pumice stones or sharp clippers used by the pedicurist. A salon in Alexandria, Va., has been offering fish pedicures, but many states, including Arizona and Texas, have banned the practice because live fish can’t be sanitized.
Consumer spending on professional manicures and pedicures has remained fairly steady, even in tough economic times. The consumer market research firm Mintel estimates that Americans spent about $600 million on nail care services and products in 2008, a slight increase over 2007. While pedicures give people a chance to sit back, relax and be pampered, there are risks customers need to be aware of, particularly older Americans who may have other health issues. Not all spas follow strict hygiene and safety standards. Sutera, the foot doctor, says she sees at least 10 patients a week who have gotten infections from pedicures.
In 2000, a nail salon using unsanitary whirlpool footbaths was responsible for infecting about 100 customers. Many of these customers experienced painful boils from their feet to their knees. The outbreak sparked an investigation throughout the state by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tested 30 footbaths in 18 salons and found that 29 were infected with bacteria.
Tips for safe feet
To help prevent infection and have a safe, enjoyable pedicure, experts recommend the following:
- If you have any cuts, scrapes or places where the skin is broken on your legs or feet, do not soak your feet in the spa water.
- Women should not shave or wax their legs 24 hours before a pedicure. Shaving and waxing leave tiny cuts where bacteria could enter and cause an infection.
- Don’t let the pedicurist cut your cuticles—it’s a very easy way to get an infection.
- Go early in the day when the salon is the cleanest and nail technicians aren’t tired.
- Make sure the footbaths are properly disinfected after each customer.
- Bring your own pedicure tools to the spa to reduce the chance of bacterial contamination. Podiatrist Jacqueline Sutera recommends bringing your own clippers, a nail file and a foot file for callouses.
- Go to your doctor or podiatrist for a “pre-pedicure” visit and have your feet examined for any health problems. Diabetics and those with circulatory problems should be very careful about having pedicures; consult a doctor first.
Melissa Mason was an intern with the AARP Bulletin.