9 Rules for a Safer Pedicure, According to Podiatrists

Remember: Clean is not the same as sterile.

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Maybe you’ve heard some nail salon horror stories, but you’ve shrugged them off. After all, at your salon, the employees look happy, the clippers seem sterilized, and every inch of the salon looks spotless. What could go wrong?

According to podiatrist and Vionic Innovation Member Jackie Sutera, DPM: a lot. The thing is, it’s pretty tough—if not impossible—to get all those tools and appliances perfectly sterile between use. That means your pedicure is an opportunity to have contact with infections from previous pedi-lovers.

But a great pedi has its perks, so Dr. Sutera and the American Podiatric Medical Association recommended these tips for a safer pedicure.

  1. Skip the shave. True, it’s a little awkward to have someone lotion your legs when they’re covered in stubble, but your skin will thank you. Wait at least 24 hours after shaving your legs before scheduling that pedicure.  According to Dr. Sutera, a shave creates “microcuts” all over the skin, which are like mini open wounds. As a result, those slick legs make you “much more prone to getting an infection from the towels or people’s hands or the water you’re sitting in,” says Dr. Sutera.

  2. Rise and shine. The salon will often the cleanest—and the employees at their most alert—right away in the morning. This is also when salons tend to be the least busy, so salon employees will have more time to follow proper sterilization techniques and give you the safest, healthiest pedicure.

  3. Skip the sale. By that same logic, be wary of those “Half off Mondays!” specials. That extra foot traffic may result in a more chaotic (and less clean) salon.

  4. Line up! Plastic liners in the foot baths are a YES. This means the tub gets a fresh lining for each pedi, so your tootsies won’t be swimming in the same bath as the customer before you. This decreases your chances of contracting an infection.

  5. Try disposable. When it comes to derailing germs, disposable tools are safer than reusable tools. Common nail salon tools—foot files, pumice stones, nail files, buffers—just can’t be sterilized, says Dr. Sutera. Even those fancy UV lights are not really getting the spores of infections off them. If you’re a frequent salon-goer and want to conserve resources, consider investing in your own tools and bringing them with you to the salon.

  6. No. Foot. Razors. Once prized as the ultimate form of removing calluses, these instruments are now strictly frowned upon by podiatrists. Foot razors can shave off way too much of the epidermis, leaving the dermis underneath exposed and vulnerable. Here are other remedies for callused and cracked heels you can try instead.

  7. Be a square. Well, let your nails be square at least. Even if you prefer the look and feel of round edges, square nails help protect against painful ingrown toenails.

  8. Know when to skip the polish. Are your toenails discolored, dry, brittle, or similarly unhealthy? These are signs of a foot fungus—or simply a weak nail that needs a break. You might be tempted to cover up a yellow nail with some shiny red polish, but this can make things worse. An infected nail needs to breathe, and polish will not allow that. 

  9. Diabetic? Consult a podiatrist. As always, you should follow proper foot care for diabetes, and your podiatrist can recommend a personal pedi plan for a safe and healthy pedicure that eliminates the risk of infection (See #6!).