Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Like Re-using Q-Tips

One of the recurring themes that you're bound to notice throughout my ranting, is that the State (no matter which state) does not care about how well we do nails... or hair... or make up... or waxing. Licensing has nothing to do with skill or talent, and everything to do with consumer safety.

Now, government regulation of the cosmetology industry (and other industries) is another matter entirely that deserves not just its own post, but possibly its own server entirely! But I think its important for the public to understand that just because someone holds a license to do nails, doesn't mean they are any good at doing nails!

But despite my feeling that this is a very important thing for people to know and understand-- it isn't the primary point that I'm planning on addressing today.

Today I want to talk about disinfection practices in salons. We are supposed to have them. Maintaining a clean work area is vital to practicing our art in a manner that is safe and healthy for our clients and ourselves. And part of being clean and safe is being sure to disinfect the tools we use.

Now-- there are some exceptions, such as sculpting brushes and the brushes that are inside nail polishes. Occasionally a group comes along and tries to get over zealous with the germaphobia thing and, so far, it keeps getting overturned by experts who come forward to produce all the necessary charts and graphs to show that these things don't pose health threats under normal use.

So don't sweat that stuff. There is such a thing as being paranoid and worrying about nail polish brushes is on that list.

What you should be looking at though are things like cuticle nippers and pushers; nail files, buffers, drill bits, pedicure tubs, and anything that gets used to smooth calluses on your feet-- and if one of those things is a razor blade, then you should freak out and run away! Because razor blades are not legal for use in salons in most states-- and are generally a bad idea overall.

I live and work in California, so what I know and how I practice is largely based on California's rules and regulations. All states are different, so make sure you look into your specific area.

Here in Cali, we are required to disinfect our implements and surfaces using a "hospital grade, EPA-registered" disinfectant.

Most disinfectant is purchased in concentrate and must be mixed with water according to directions to create a liquid that is strong enough to kill fungus, bacteria, and viruses. One of my biggest pet peeves in my colleagues is that they tend to mix their disinfectant too strong. I don't know if they think leaving it so concentrated will kill more germs, or if they think it'll stay stronger longer so they don't have to change their disinfectant as often, or if they just like the color better if it's not so watered down.

Whatever their thinking is-- it's wrong. Mixing disinfectant concentrate to anything other than it's recommended strength either produces a watered-down liquid that doesn't have the strength to kill anything, or it produces a mixture that's so strong that it corrodes metal implements, stains nylon and plastic ones, wastes disinfectant, and is harder to wash off and could lead to skin sensitivities.

Disinfectant should be somewhere in the neighborhood of Windex in color-- except for the disinfectants that aren't blue. There are some pink ones, some purple ones, and some green ones. All of the ones I'm familiar with should be clear (never cloudy) and you should be able to see through them if they are mixed properly. None of them should be so dark you can't see light through them.

Also, the liquid should be CLEAR. NOT cloudy. Cloudy means it's been too long since it's been changed and it's killing power has been compromised.

Yes, disinfectant has finite kill-power. There's a point where the germs can overpower the disinfectant and the liquid ends up becoming an incubator for more germs. That's why it's important to change the disinfectant regularly.

I change mine daily. California says I have to change it daily or whenever it becomes visibly cloudy. I reason that changing disinfectant about every 10-15 clients seems like good math under those requirements. But I keep a relatively small jar for my implements so when it gets too full to hold another brush, then it's time for a new batch.

Some nail techs have chosen to go above and beyond and are using autoclaves to fully sterilize their metal implements-- to date, I don't believe any state requires this. I know Texas tried it, but last I heard they'd decided to put it off.

Sterilization is a big deal. Autoclaves are pricey, and the implements must be sealed into little airtight pouches-- which can't be reused. So, if you find someone who sterilizes, that's pretty cool! It means you've found someone who REALLY takes safety seriously! BUT just because someone doesn't sterilize, doesn't mean you aren't safe.

Surgeons have to sterilize because their implements are designed to get inside your body, where the slightest hint of bacteria could be a serious threat, tattoo artists (good ones) sterilize their tools because their tools are designed to break the skin-- again, where even ordinarily benign bacteria could cause problems.

But nail services should never break the skin. And, under normal circumstances when the tech is following proper protocol for disinfection-- even a rare, occasional mishap should be easily treatable with some peroxide and a bandage. And a cut during a nail service should be rare!

So, here's what we have to disinfect: anything that touches the client. That includes metal implements like nippers and cuticle pushers, as well as nylon manicuring brushes, our drill bits, files, and buffers.

And none of those things can touch another person until they've been disinfected!

If it can't be disinfected according to the State's requirements, it has to be thrown out! NOT put in a bag or a box with your name on it and saved just for you. THROWN AWAY.

Currently, things that must be thrown away include the cotton that's used to take off your polish (duh, right?) and files, buffers, and those little sandpaper bands that some of us use on our drills. Those things cannot be disinfected! They are "single use" items and they go in the trash after your service is complete.

If you remind me that you want them, I will happily let you take your file home with you for personal use...but you cannot bring it back! I can't use it again. It's dirty. And the state has declared that it can't be reliably disinfected. Even if I put it in the disinfectant and it doesn't fall apart-- because of its porosity, there's a very likely chance that the disinfectant couldn't kill the cooties.

I always say that reusing these things is like re-using Q-tips. It's not, exactly, but I need to use an analogy that people really understand!

And here's something else to consider: Remember when I said it wasn't OK to put your personal implements into a container that gets saved just for use on you?

I have heard a lot of people tell me that they've been a salon where their nail tech did that. I've heard a lot of people say they really thought that was a good idea.

Well, it's not.

For starters; here in California, it's still illegal. Because CA requires all those things to be disinfected every time, even if they only touch one person. It still has to be cleaned properly between uses. And files and buffers still can't be disinfected to the State's satisfaction-- the State does not care who the implements are used on, it cares how many services the implements are used for.

But think of it this way:

At the end of the day you go home and change your clothes, right? Maybe you keep you clothes on till you put on your pj's, maybe you strip down your chones and sleep in them and change them the next morning, whatever your personal routine is-- when you take off your panties at the end of the day, do you fold them back up and put them back in your dresser drawer so you can wear them again later in the week?

Or do you put them in the laundry to be washed before you wear them again?

Why? Why would you need to wash your underwear before you wear it again? I mean, it ONLY TOUCHES YOU, right? So if it only touches you, how does it get dirty?

Uh huh... see my point? The same people who are totally disgusted by the thought of wearing the same pair of panties twice without washing them in between, are the people who think it's totally cool to leave their nail files and buffers in an box on a shelf somewhere for two weeks at a time, slowly festering and breeding vast colonies of whatever cooties were on their nails, the nail technician, the sink, the table, the doorknob, their keys, and everything else they touched that day... and two weeks before that...and two weeks before that... and two weeks before that...etc.

So that's why you want to make sure that your nail file, buffer, sanding band, and any other paper-based implements are BRAND NEW everytime you get your nails done. And that's why you want to make sure that you nail brushes, nippers, pushers, etc have been disinfected between every use.

And that's why I won't use your personal implements if you bring them in. I don't know how you store them, and I certainly doubt that you disinfect them properly between uses.

No sirree, don't bother bringing your own files and nippers and such with you here! I only use tools that I can be sure of.

And, frankly, if you can't trust the salon you go to to do right by the state requirements and your health and well-being, then you need to find a new salon anyway.


  1. Love it!!! You said it very well. I am a nail tech in Texas and we do have a rule to sterilize. I will say that they watered it down. You must have one of the three: autoclave, dry heat sterilizer and ultraviolet Sanitizer. Thanks for the post.

  2. I linked back to this Entry in my blog. Thanks for continuing to keep it real and say how it really is out there. Here in L.A., I worked for 2 well-known (and well-reviewed) Salons that either made Kits for their clients, or offered a buck or two off the client's next Service, should they bring their (disposable) implements back. I always got in trouble when I spoke up mentioning that it's against the rules to do as much. Interestingly enough, the problems were compounded at both Salons by the fact that both these Salons also expected me to take toenail fungus clients, which I balked at too. As you might suspect, my tenure at both places was short due to my eagerness to help the Salons become Board compliant. :P It's not been easy out there-even the high-end places break the rules frequently. :/