What’s not to love about a spa pedicure? The warm bubbly water jets, the chair massage and freshly manicured toenails. It’s no wonder why millions of Americans get pedicures each year to help them feel pampered and confident.
Nail salons may have only been around since the late 1800s, but pedicures have been used to rejuvenate and beautify the feet for several thousand years. Since ancient times, pedicures have traditionally been used to clip the toenails, prevent infection and soften the feet to remove dead skin cells.
Today, pedicures are a way of life for almost everyone. Some health care providers recommend them to their patients. However, with the benefits, there are some risks as well.
Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of pedicures and some tips for finding the right nail salon.
The benefits of pedicures
Getting your toenails polished can help people relax and feel better about the appearance of their feet. Nail polish helps maintain nail hydration by preventing contact with water and slowing evaporation.
Filing off dead skin can be refreshing and help feet feel better by removing calluses and corns. Getting your feet massaged as part of a pedicure can help with poor circulation and skin moisture and make tired, achy feet feel better.
“Getting a pedicure can also help patients with mobility issues or for those who otherwise have difficulty reaching their toes to take care of them on their own,” said Austin Matthews, DPM, a podiatrist at Banner Health.
If your nail technician knows the proper way to give a pedicure, they can also spot potential foot issues which may need to be taken care of by a podiatrist or health care provider.
The danger of pedicures
With the good comes the bad. There are some health risks that you should be aware of when getting a spa pedicure—especially if you are at higher risk for foot problems.
“If you have diabetes, poor circulation or a history of prior wounds or amputations, talk to your podiatrist before getting a pedicure to discuss potential health risks or other options,” Dr. Matthews said. “Any break in the skin can lead to a bacterial infection or another infection. This is why we also recommend not shaving your legs right before a pedicure to avoid any open cuts in the skin.”
If a salon is not careful about its cleaning procedures, infections can be passed from one person to another. Some salons do not take the time to sterilize their tools and foot tubs between each customer.
“Footbaths, especially the jets in the baths, can harbor bacteria and fungus,” Dr. Matthews said. “These can cause athlete’s foot (foot fungus), warts and toenail fungus.”
Scraping dead skin can be dangerous, depending on how it is done. Using a razor or any sharp instrument can lead to cuts.
Poor cutting techniques might result in ingrown toenails (where the nail grows into the skin) while removing the cuticle can open the door to irritation and infection.
Are UV nail machines dangerous?
Some studies have examined the effect of UV light, such as what you would be exposed to during a pedicure or manicure. Researchers found that exposure to UV light for just 20 minutes caused damage and even death to human cells. However, Dr. Matthews noted these studies were looking at cells in a petri dish—not real human volunteers—so we can’t draw firm conclusions.
“These studies raise some concerns, and I think it is a good idea to use caution if you frequently get pedicures or manicures and the salon uses UV (or even LED) lamps,” he said. “Applying sunscreen or wearing UV-blocking fingerless gloves can help minimize some risks.”
What should I look for when choosing a nail salon?
Nothing is more relaxing than sitting in a comfy massage chair while a nail tech beautifies your feet. The good news is that pedicures can be enjoyed safely if you take the time to consider the following tips:
- Ask about the salon’s cleaning practices. Make sure instruments are properly sterilized between customers. An autoclave sterilizer, not a UV light machine or soaking in disinfecting liquid, is the best way to eliminate bacteria and germs. Ensure all disposable tools like single-use files and buffers are tossed after each use.
- Bring your own supplies. Some salons hand out individual kits or consider purchasing your own supplies and bringing them along. This includes emery boards and pumice stones. “Because of their porous nature, pumice stones and files are hard to clean,” Dr. Matthews said. “Make sure the salon uses one you bring from home or a brand new one.”
- Check for plastic liners. Before soaking your feet, make sure the salon uses individual bath liners. Plastic liners can prevent cross-contamination with the people who came before you.
- Don’t disturb your cuticles. The cuticle is your nail’s protective barrier. Cutting or picking at your cuticle can lead to hangnails and infections. Instead, ask the nail tech to gently push the cuticles back and moisturize them.
- Speak up. Make sure the nail tech knows upfront if you have any concerns or if there are things you don’t want them doing, such as digging out ingrown toenails or cutting your cuticles. “I recommend finding a salon you’re comfortable with and sticking with them – even the same nail tech, if possible,” Dr. Matthews said.
- Use foot peels sparingly. Chemical exfoliations – a mixture of ingredients such as beta hydroxy acids, hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid and/or lactic acid – are usually offered as add-ons at the salon. If you are in good health and are not dealing with issues specific to the skin of your feet, foot peels can be done every couple of months to dissolve dead skin.
There are some health risks with pedicures but do not be afraid to pamper yourself. Take the necessary precautions, and you can feel pampered and confident.
If you have concerns after a pedicure, get checked out by a podiatrist who can help resolve problems and help you avoid things worsening.
If you experience a deep ingrown toenail and there is redness or drainage, see a podiatrist before asking a nail tech to dig the nail out.
Need help with foot-related concerns?
Schedule an appointment with a podiatrist.