Nail Salon Infections

A mani-pedi would be nice, right? The thing is, it should be—but it shouldn't involve an infection. No one wants to go home with an infection and a manicure.

There are infections the nail salon is working to avoid while you relax. Scissors are disinfected; footbaths are cleaned.

Some infections of our hands and feet happen regardless of whether we go to a nail salon. Our feet are prone to fungal infections like athlete's foot, even without a pedicure. Those who are diabetic need good foot care, but may also be more prone to developing infections related to foot care, especially fungal infections. 

There are, however, infections that occur specifically at nail salons. Next time you're in a salon, make sure you stay infection-free by watching for these potential problems.

Female customers receiving pedicures at nail salon
Hero Images / Getty Images 

Would You Like to Relax Your Feet in the Whirlpools?

It's important the salon disinfects the footbaths.

Whirlpools need to be cleaned and disinfected between clients. In rare cases, infections such as Mycobacterium fortuitum have caused outbreaks associated with nail salon whirlpool footbaths. This bacteria, a relative of tuberculosis, has led to boils or infections on the legs after a pedicure. These are often associated with leg-shaving. Infections may go away on their own, but many need antibiotics

Do You Want Your Cuticles Cut Back?

Overly aggressive cuticle care can lead to infections.

Paronychia is a bacterial (or fungal) infection that occurs around the nails. It causes painful, often red, swelling at the cuticle (nail fold). This may develop pus and extend further on the fingertip. It may require a doctor to open and clean a severe infection, but it can improve with soaking the finger. It may require topical or oral antibiotics, especially if it involves the bacteria MRSA.

Paronychia can be caused by trauma to the nail cuticles, such as from pushing and cutting them back. This can introduce bacteria through the cuticles (nail beds) into the skin, which creates an infection.

Would You Like a Foot Massage With Your Pedicure?

Bare-handed contact carries a small risk of transmitting infections like warts.

If someone touches your feet without gloves and has a wart, the virus that causes warts could spread to your feet. These warts are caused by HPV. Vaccination for HPV covers nine types of HPV, but not the type that causes hand or foot warts.

Rarely, herpes finger infections can spread this way also.

How About a Hand Massage With Your Manicure?

Colds and influenza can be spread, in part, by holding or touching hands.

Colds and the flu can spread by a handshake if you then touch your nose or mouth. When someone covers a sneeze with a hand and then shakes hands, the cold virus can be passed on to someone else. It's a good idea to wash your hands before eating or touching your face after a manicure if your manicurist didn't wear gloves. 

Would You Like Acrylic Nails?

Do not keep acrylic nails on too long or an infection may develop.

Leaving acrylic nails on for months can lead to fungal infections. Acrylic nails may slowly peel from the nail. Fungal infections can creep into the moist space between the real nail and the acrylic nail. 

Would You Like Me to Use This Pumice Stone?

Any tools that are reused could conceivably spread an infection.

There are many tools used for a mani-pedi. There are scissors, cuticle pushers and knives, buffers, files, and pumice stones. Metal and sharp tools are sterilized between customers. Nail files and pumice stones may be reused without sterilization. There is a small possibility of transferring some infections if tools are not sterilized. It's the sharp tools, which can pierce your skin, that are the most worrisome. 

Some customers bring their own tools. 

Would You Like Your Calluses Razored Away?

Be careful of anything that does not seem legitimate if you are unsure of a salon. 

Some pedicures use razors to clear away dead skin. Any regulated salon would be careful with razors and should not reuse any non-sterilized razors. However, if you were to ever visit an unregulated salon, such as when traveling, you'll want to make sure of this. There is a small risk of bloodborne diseases, like hepatitis B or C or even HIV, if the razor punctures your skin after it's been used on someone else.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Preventing Pedicure Foot Spa Infections. Environmental Protection Agency.

  2. Paronychia. American Academy of Family Physicians. September 2018.

  3. Paronychia. US National Library of Medicine. April 2019.

  4. Warts. TeensHealth from Nemours. February 2019.

  5. Handwashing education materials for the general public. Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

  6. Nail Hygiene. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 2016.

By Megan Coffee, MD
Megan Coffee, MD, PhD, is a clinician specializing in infectious disease research and an attending clinical assistant professor of medicine.