Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's Not "Fungus"

Let's discuss those green spots underneath your nails...

First and foremost: it is NOT "fungus." That yellow/green/brownish discoloration is a sign of a bacterial infection caused by a little cootie called "psuedomonas aeruginosa." The bacteria lives in water and soil and is very very common in our environment.

Secondly: I can't guarantee that you won't get it. But I DO take special precautions and do everything in my personal power to make sure you won't get it from me.

When you arrive in the salon, I require you to wash your hands using soap and water. This is the first, and most basic, step in making sure that we get started with a clean work surface (ie, your nails) and even if you don't dry your hands thoroughly I will make sure that they are dry before I begin my prep routine.

I know many (I feel safe in actually saying "most") people have never been asked, let alone required, to wash their hands prior to a nail service. In fact, I once had a client who insisted that I didn't know what I was doing because she had not only never been required to wash her hands prior to service, but had actually been refused service because she once arrived at the salon after gardening and voluntarily washed her hands when she arrived! The technician told her that since she got her hands wet, the tech could not do her nails.

Allow me to assure you that this is not the case. Many states have regulations requiring both parties to wash their hands prior to service. And trust me, simply washing your hands will not do anything to negatively impact any product's ability to adhere to your nails. Especially not when followed by proper preparation of the nail plate.

I simply cannot believe that in our germophobic culture where people refuse to push a grocery cart without first wiping it down with a Clorox wipe, that these same people are offended by having to wash their hands before having their nails done.

After you wash your hands I begin services by carefully prepping the natural nail to receive whatever product you choose. This procedure includes a thorough scrubbing with a 99% isoproply alcohol (rubbing alcohol) solution-- and I mean "scrub." I use a nylon brush that has been disinfected in a hospital-grade, EPA-register disinfectant and stored in a dry, dust-free cabinet. This allows me to be sure to thoroughly saturate the nail plate with the solution, making sure to get into any nooks and crannies that could be missed by merely wiping with a cotton pad.

This solution acts to further sanitize the nail plate, remove dust, and dehydrate it to make it more compatible with further prep products that we'll be applying.

Then I apply a nail plate "dehydrator" or "pH balancing" solution. (Different product manufacturers have different products and different labeling.) These prep products dry out the nail plate and make it easier for primers to get a good grip on the surface of the nail plate.

Then we apply primer.

"Primer" used to mean a methacrylic acid solution with a very low pH factor. These primers are still around, widely used, and perfectly fine when used with caution by a conscientious professional. They are highly acidic and should NEVER touch the skin! Contact with skin tissue can (and will) lead to chemical burns.

But many products today are used in conjunction with "protein bonder" or "non-acid" primers...

They are still technically "primers." Technical lingo often gets quite confusing and as specific words and terms develop negative connotations, their usage becomes heavily debated and their true definitions often get confused: A "primer" is anything that is used to "prime"-- or prepare-- a surface for another product to adhere to it.

Nevertheless, whether I apply a traditional acid primer or a protein bonder, that goes on after the dehydrator.

Then I apply the enhancement product.

Acrylic, gel, silk wrap, powder glaze, UV polish-- whatever enhancement service you have chosen.

Once the product is applied and set, then you can relax some. At this point, we have done pretty much all we can to ensure that the application process has been completed with complete attention your health and safety to preserve the integrity of both your natural nail and the enhancement that we have applied.

I never re-use my files, buffers, or those little sandpaper arbor bands on my drill. In fact, in the state of California, it's not even legal for me to reuse those items-- not even on the same person! It's like reusing q-tips or toilet paper-- it doesn't matter if it's on the same person, some things are just meant to only be used once. These items are made of porous materials and even if I put them in the disinfectant, it doesn't guarantee that all the cooties can be killed, so we just throw them out.

All my metal and nylon implements get disinfected according to the state regulations.

I don't even re-use the terry cloth towel that I keep over my lap to keep the dust off my pants (like that even works anyway!)

I work very hard to make sure that I do not contribute to any possible infection!

During the preparation and application process I can get quite snippy with my clients. This is not personal and I have been fortunate that most people seem to understand where I'm coming from, and I'm always happy to explain myself: You need to sit still, facing the nail table (and your nail technician) straight forward. You need to keep both hands on the table. I am working on both hands, not just one, even if I'm only holding one at a time.

It is imperative that you not lean on your hand, brush your hand through your hair, stick your hand inside your purse or your pocket for any reason, or try to eat with your "free" hand. Anything-- and everything-- you touch between washing your hands and the end of the application process is a potential source of infection. Oils, makeup, hair products, and miscellaneous cooties can contaminate the nail plate and lead to service break down.

"Service breakdown" equals "broken heart" to your nail lady. It means that all my hard work to build beautiful enhancements and all my diligence to ensure that those enhancements are built on a clean, properly prepared foundation-- has gone to $&*! It means that there is now an increased potential that those enhancements will begin to lift from the nail plate and that moisture will build up in that space where that nasty bacteria can colonize; leading, of course, to those green spots on your nail.

And that's just speaking of what I can have any hope of controlling while you're here in the salon!

Aside from this, there is the added concern of what the heck you do with those beautiful enhancements when you're out of my sight.

In a perfect world, clients would wear their enhancements in perfect balance with their nail bed (free edge not longer than 1/2 the length of the nail bed;) they wouldn't wear flared or "duck feet" tips that not only mean extra weight at the free edge, but also mean more area of the free edge to get caught or hit on things; and they wouldn't insist on so many embedded embellishments (glitter, confetti, jewels, etc) that the free edges are so thick that, again, they are too heavy for the nail bed to provide anchorage for them, and that they lift from the cuticle area or sidewalls under impact, instead of breaking clean.

Also-- in a nail tech's perfect world-- you would never flail wildly, drum your fingers, tap your nails, add or subtract keys from your key chain, slip when opening your car door or setting your parking brake, put fitted sheets on your bed, take clothes out of the washer or dryer, play fetch or Frisbee with your dog or children, text message on any phone that doesn't have a capacitive keyboard, type, get in fights, or get blind, stinking drunk and simply not have a clue what you did... basically-- your nails would never come in contact with anything.
But it's not a perfect world. Fashion-- not just nail fashions-- aren't always practical, and right now those flared tips are in. And it isn't realistic to expect all my clients to stop working, texting, driving, or essentially going on about their lives-- just because they got their nails done.

So, with all this in mind, here's some advice:

Acrylic takes approximately 48 hours to fully cure. That means that even though I can file on it after about 3 minutes, it's still not entirely "hard." Most cracks and breaks actually get started within the first day of getting your nails done. People walk out of the salon and start banging their nails against all sorts of surfaces. Most people aren't even aware of how often they hit their nails against things. Not being aware of this makes it much harder to avoid it, but try to pay attention to the tips of your fingers! You paid good money to have your nails done, now treat them with some respect and go easy on them.

Cracks usually start inside the nail and work their way out. We've all hit a nail and not broken it, right? But that doesn't mean that the impact didn't cause a fissure in the product-- deep inside, especially during that all-important first 48 hours of application. Once a fissure has started, it will eventually develop into a visible crack. With luck, your nails will grow out and that compromised portion will be filed off before it becomes an issue-- but when you see a crack in the nail, or your nail suddenly "pops off" even though you "didn't even hit it," remember all those times you hit your nails against the table top while you were talking with your hands!

Even invisible, microscopic cracks can let moisture and bacteria in.

If you begin to see green spots (or yellow or brown or black) under your nail-- it's lifting. No exceptions. Something went wrong somewhere along the way and the product has let go of the natural nail and there's a point of entry that has allowed bacteria to get into that space.

While this is not a cause for panic, it does need to be taken care of. You need to kill that bacteria! And the first step to doing that is to make sure that space is dry.

I personally recommend getting the product off the nail as soon as possible if you see any discoloration. And I don't mean by sticking it in your mouth and ripping it off! That just jacks up your nail. Not to mention, this is a bacterial infection we're dealing with, and while a little green spot on your nail isn't something to freak out about-- that same bacteria can lead to some pretty serious consequences if you get an infection elsewhere in your body. So keep it out of your mouth.

Once you get the product off your nail, wash it with soap and water, douse it in Bactine or Peroxide, take your hair dryer to it and make sure it's dry.

Now, here's the hard part: the green spots won't go away. The discoloration is a stain in the keratin of your nail that's caused by a by-product of the bacteria. It is not the bacteria itself. So even after you kill the infection, the discoloration will remain until the nail grows out.

Yeah, you could file it off. But you're just filing down your natural nail, which isn't really doing your nail any good.

And you'll need a doctor to clear you before you can get your nails done again. Because nail techs aren't allowed to treat infections and we're not allowed to work on anything that shows signs of infection or open wounds.

The best thing you can do is help me take care of your nails. I only see your nails once every couple of weeks, you see them everyday. So first off-- pay attention to them. Treat your fingertips delicately and avoid excessive pressure against your nails and fingertips to help prevent stress fractures in the product.

Keep your nails clean, and make sure you take the time to dry your hands and nails thoroughly when you wash your hands.

Use cuticle oil every day: the only time oil makes your nails lift is if it's left on the nail plate when product is applied. When product is applied over a properly prepared nail plate, there is no point of entry for oil or cooties to get between your nail and your nail enhancement. But cuticle oil every bit as important in maintaining the integrity of your nails and cuticles as moisturizer is to preventing wrinkles around your eyes.

A high-quality cuticle oil is made entirely of botanical oils-- contains no mineral oil-- and will keep both your natural nail plate and the surrounding skin tissue properly hydrated. This prevents the skin and nail from drying out, causing those tissues to shrink and pull away from the enhancement product. Dry skin is the number one cause of lifting and cuticle oil is your best defense against it. You don't need to get all greased up, just a tiny drop on each cuticle and then massaged in will do the trick!

Get your nails done! There's a reason that 2 to 3 weeks is what we recommend between fills. It's not just a way of making more money. In fact, I'd love it if all my clients came in once every 4 weeks, that would allow me to see more clients! But 4 weeks is too long to wait. You nails grow about 1/4 inch every month, and as they grow out, they change shape slightly. Nails bend and flex as they grow, some curl up, some flatten out, but the product isn't as flexible as the natural nail and it can't bend and flex very much.

Modern products have made great improvements, but 3 weeks is still about the limit of any product's ability to grow out with the nail before it starts to give.

Getting a fill (or rebalance) is like having the oil changed in your car: you're supposed to do it on a regular schedule in order to prevent things from going catastrophically wrong down the line! It's preventative maintenance, so don't wait until your nails are lifting or broken to have them done, by that time it might be too late.

If you do happen to break a nail or one starts lifting or you see a crack-- treat it with an antiseptic, just like it was a skinned knee or a broken blister. Take precautions to prevent an infection from occurring. Use your hair dryer to make sure the area is totally dry and then seal it with a tiny drop of nail glue-- or remove the product entirely-- until you can get to the salon for a professional repair. And by "until you can get to the salon" I don't mean until your next appointment in two more weeks. I mean ASAP. And if you can't get into your regular nail tech for a proper repair, then either go to another salon for that repair, or take the product off the nail and just wait it out till you can see your regular tech.

Glue is not your friend. It's a last resort sort of thing. And it'll do more harm than good if you don't make sure the nail has been sanitized first; you'll just end up sealing that bacteria in.

Remember: Psuedamonas A. is in most soil and water and other moist environments. And by the time you see a green spot, it's already too late. So make sure you're taking care of those nails, and treat cracks, lifts and breaks like they were open wounds. Clean them, dry them, and sanitize them and I'll never have to tell you that I can't put product back on that nail until the spot is gone or a doctor tells me it's ok.

And once again: I can't guarantee you won't get it, but I do my best to make damn sure you won't get it here.