20 Unvarnished Truths About Manicures That May Make You Rethink Your Next Trip To The Nail Salon

The average American woman who gets her nails done will visit the salon bi-monthly for a manicure and pedicure, according to the website Wisebread. It adds that her sessions will cost upwards of $1,300 annually, but it’s worth it for the pampering – or, so she thinks. As it turns out, nail salons harbor some dark secrets that can make a fun trip damaging to more than just your digits. So, here are 20 unvarnished truths about manicures that could have you re-thinking those beloved spa trips.

20. A rushed filing can cause more harm than good

Filing your nails into the perfect square or almond can be tough if you try it yourself. Of course, your nail tech makes it look easy – swiftly buffing and whittling your claws into a uniform shape. The professional filing is likely a major reason why you get manicures in the first place, but this step can be damaging to your nail health if it’s not done right.

Watch the way the manicurist hedges your nails next time. A quick, almost rough filing motion can compromise the fingertips. This leaves them susceptible to cracking, peeling or even splitting down the line. So, watch as the nail tech files and make sure they’re being gentle and filing in one direction only.

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19. Acetone doesn’t just remove polish

If you’ve ever had a gel manicure, you know how intensive a process it is to remove your polish at the end of its lifespan. Nail techs roughen the surface of the shiny shellac first and then leave your fingers to soak in acetone for 15 minutes or more. This step helps weaken the polish so it wipes away, but it could also be hurting your nails.

Acetone can dry out your nails, but in the long run, it can also cause brittleness and peeling as well. To combat this, Bustle recommends slathering your nails in a strengthening serum or moisturizer so they can rehydrate and cushion themselves between manicures.

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18. You might find out the hard way that you have an allergy

Perhaps this is your first manicure, or maybe you’ve switched salons to try one that uses different products or methods. Either way, you might be exposed to new products during that next manicure, which could reveal that you have an allergy.

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For one thing, your nail salon could be floating with chemicals that cause a reaction from you. It could also be the adhesives or acrylics that they use to create your faux nails. Even acetone can affect those with allergies. Uncovering such a sensitivity in this way is rare, but it can happen while getting your nails done.

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17. Skip pumice stone scrubs

During a treatment at the salon, a staffer might whip out a pumice stone to scrub patches of dry or rough skin from your body. This leaves skin feeling soft, and it’s done with an all-natural material. It might seem risk-free, but a lot of things can go wrong, according to experts.

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Pumice stones have uneven surfaces that are just rough enough to make a gentle natural file. However, tiny holes speckle the surface of these rocks, which makes them impossible to disinfect. So, skip any sort of rock-centric scrubbing on your next trip to the salon. Instead, the website Stylecaster suggests asking the technician to use traditional hand- or feet-scrubbing tools that can be sanitized completely.

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16. What’s outside the bottle might not be what’s on the inside

As you peruse the shelves full of polish at the salon, have you ever wondered how they manage to have so many colors? We might even see a few out-there shades and wonder who would ever select such a hue. Once they’re opened, though, these varnishes change in consistency – going gloppy with time and air exposure.

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But your salon can manage to salvage stale shades with a bit of nail polish remover. Apparently, they pour a bit of acetone into the glue-like old polish to thin it back out for your use. This action compromises the quality of the varnish, though. So to be safe, Total Beauty suggests bringing your own uncompromised polish for your next treatment.

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15. Superficial cleanliness says a lot

When you walk into a nail salon, it should be fairly easy to tell whether the place is clean or not. According to Self, superficial cleanliness is a good sign as to how sanitary the establishment is. So, examine the countertops, mirrors and floors to make sure everything’s sparkling; you shouldn’t be able to see any nail clippings or other salon-related grime.

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The technicians should also look as spotless as the salon in which they work. A clean, stain-free uniform shows that they take their cleanliness seriously while on the job. Keep an eye out for posted safety rules and standards as well. If a salon shares these with their customers, then they’re clearly committed to providing such an environment.

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14. There’s always a risk of fungal infection

Unfortunately, one of the biggest threats of a nail salon visit is picking up a fungal infection along the way. Even with regular sanitization, your go-to manicurist might pass fungi onto you. The spores can stick to your technician’s hands, the nail polish brush or to the station where you sit for the treatment.

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Most salons sanitize their equipment, but some them fail to perform a sufficiently intense regimen to remove everything – including fungi. And it’s not just tools or stations that can cause a fungal infection, either. Fungi can develop in the darkness after your gel manicure starts to lift and moisture sneaks beneath the layers.

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13. Never opt out of the base coat

Some salons have cheaper, quicker manicures on their service menus. But don’t opt for such a breezy treatment unless it includes a base coat of polish, the website Healthyway says. This is especially important if you have selected a nail varnish in a particularly bright or pigmented shade.

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The base coat ensures that the color of your nail polish really pops once it’s applied. But this clear layer also safeguards your nails and the surrounding skin, as heavily pigmented varnishes can dye these parts of your fingers. So, make sure your nail tech uses a base coat, and don’t be afraid to ask for a second layer of clear protection.

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12. There might be a scary surprise waiting when you remove your polish

As we previously mentioned, it’s easy to pick up or pass on a fungal infection at the nail salon. The spores hide out on the polish brushes and other places. So, your technician could be swiping an infection onto your nails with your manicure, and neither of you would have any idea.

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The worst part is that you wouldn’t be able to see the fungal infection taking shape if a pigmented nail polish is used for your treatment. So, you wouldn’t be able to see that your nails have become discolored. These infections also spread quickly unless they’re treated fast, so multiple nails could suffer until you remove your varnish and see the damage that has been brewing.

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11. Salon products don’t need labels

Of course, toiletries show you every single ingredient that goes into making the product. But the same can’t be said for your nail salon’s supplies, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics co-founder Stacy Malkan told Self in 2011. She explained, “One problem is that products used in salons don’t need to be labeled like products sold in stores.”

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Your nail salon can actually get away with some pretty unsavory additives in their products – unbeknownst to you. Malkan continued, “In fact, almost any chemical is allowed into cosmetics with no required safety testing and no health monitoring of salon workers, so it’s not unusual for salons to use some very nasty chemical processes.”

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10. Your nail beds might never be the same

So many of us find it difficult to keep our nails orderly without the help of a nail tech. These professionals not only shape our nails, but they hedge our cuticles to look uniform, too. However, if the manicurist starts to clip away this skin surrounding the nail, it can be troublesome for the growth of healthy nails in the future.

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Specifically, clipping cuticles can damage the skin, which, in turn, causes the nail bed to grow back in ridged and uneven. Healthyway suggests requesting that your nail tech pushes back your cuticles instead. Or, if you do feel comfortable with a trim, request a gentle treatment to preserve your nail beds.

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9. UV light sanitization doesn’t cut it

Sanitization should be of the utmost importance to the nail salon where you choose to get your manicures. And some establishments use UV machines to sterilize their tools. This equipment may look high-tech and give you peace of mind, but it isn’t as effective as it seems.

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Sephora’s nail expert Terri Silacci told Today in 2014 that the UV light can’t scour nail tools without help from other, more traditional methods. She explained, “These lights are effective [only] when coupled with proper cleaning of dirt and debris, as well as an approved disinfectant.” So, don’t be shy; call and ask a salon how they sanitize before booking your treatment.

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8. Post-salon headaches might not be a coincidence

Sometimes after leaving the nail salon we feel a bit woozy, and it’s not because of love for our new manicures. As it turns out, the products used at the salon can have this and other worrying side effects. Environmental health scientist in preventive medicine Dr. Luz Claudio told StyleCaster in 2014, “Toxic chemicals are used at nail salons…”

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More specifically, Claudio said, “Several of them are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which you can be easily inhaled because they evaporate quickly.” Anyone breathing in VOCs might experience a post-manicure headache or asthma attack – among other side effects. And this concern is especially pressing for those who get their nails done regularly.

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7. Nail salon chemicals can cause birth defects

Your nail salon’s staff – and most other beauty professionals – should be familiar with the term “toxic trio.” This is the nickname for three dangerous chemicals that happen to be used in beauty products: formaldehyde, toluene and DBP. And one of them can be particularly damaging for moms-to-be and their unborn babies.

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It’s toluene – found in both nail polish and glue – that has links to birth defects. It can also cause numbness, eye irritation and dry skin, as well as kidney and lung damage. Healthway says that you’re better off bringing your own nail polish, so you can check the ingredients list and skip the toxic trio altogether.

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6. The toxic trio can cause a slew of health issues

The toxic trio of formaldehyde, toluene and DBP has the ability to cause many more worrying health conditions. Formaldehyde – which appears in polishes and nail hardeners – can mimic asthma by causing wheezing and coughing fits. Meanwhile, DBP can make you feel nauseous if it’s in your nail polish.

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Toluene is the part of the toxic trio that can cause headaches, dizziness and other more serious side effects. And all three of these chemicals can irritate your skin, throat and eyes. You should ask your salon how they avoid these three harmful ingredients and, if they don’t, find a new place to go.

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5. The side effects of a bad pedicure might not show up for weeks

Anyone deciding to pair manicures with a pedicure should be aware of the dangers with foot-centric treatments before dipping in their toes. As you may have expected, your toes can also pick up fungal infections at the salon, and you won’t be able to see the discoloration or changes in the nail until months later.

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It’s not just a fungal infection that can form on your feet, though. Plantar warts can spread through salons, too; in fact, this is the most common viral infection to affect your trotters, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Yours might appear with a rough callus-like covering or it could be enshrouded by a dark patch of skin. Either way, you can get rid of them with a medicated ointment.

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4. You should let your nails breathe between manicures

As much as it may pain you to see your nails sans polish, they should be given the chance to breathe between manicures – especially long-lasting ones. The break between treatments will give you time to assess and treat any damage caused by your salon visits. Experts suggest nourishing your nails during these breaks as well.

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Specifically, those of us who get gel manicures should use a hardening solution to re-strengthen our nails. Even without it, though, your nails will be better for having a breather. Dermatologist Chris Adigun told Teen Vogue in 2018, “I always tell my patients to go on a gel honeymoon. This break will allow their nails to rehydrate and repair.”

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3. Not all disinfectants work

Your nail tech probably uses some sort of disinfectant to clean and sanitize their tools. Even with the best of intentions, though, they may not be removing all of the germs from their reusable tools. That’s because not all disinfectants are created equally – especially for those with pre-existing conditions.

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Podiatrist Robert Spalding told Total Beauty that most nail techs “have no clue” that their disinfectants can’t kill all viruses. Of course, it’s not part of their training to create a completely sterile work environment; the doctor pointed out that only medical professionals know how to do that. And that’s why nail salons can pass along viruses to customers even if they sanitize well.

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2. Your gel manicure might have links to cancer

You have so many reasons to choose a gel manicure over a treatment with traditional polish. The former formula lasts longer and holds up better against chips and cracks. But there can be some unsavory side effects that come with gel manis, and it’s all because they cure beneath a UV lamp.

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UV lamps damage your skin on a cellular level, according to Healthyway. So, you might not be able to see the effects superficially at first, but over time, the cell breakdown can cause premature aging. It also has links to skin cancer, so protect yourself if you have to use gel. Apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF prior to your nail treatment.

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1. Cuticle cutting might be illegal

Certain states have made it illegal for nail salons to trim customers’ cuticles. They consider it a surgical procedure, which makes sense if you consider they’re clipping away living skin. Even if you live in a place that allows cuticle cutting, though, maybe think twice about allowing your tech helm to do such a procedure.

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Simcha Whitehill – an NYC-based nail expert – explained to Cosmopolitan in 2013, “The thin sliver of skin along the bottom of your nail bed… serves an important purpose, which is to protect you from infection. Otherwise it’s a point of entry. And when it’s sliced open… the flood gates are immediately opened for bacteria and fungus to get inside and infect you.” So, keep yourself safe and opt for a gentle cuticle pushback instead.

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