It's sandal season, and millions of women and men every year are paying for salon pedicures to keep their feet and toes in tip-top shape. But is this relaxing self-care routine safe? Beyond not shaving your legs the day of your pedicure appointment, Northside Woman asked RussAnna Dudley, an advanced nail technician at Bliss Salon in Dahlonega, for the do's and don'ts of pedicures. 

Value your health

“My biggest pet-peeve is when I see local focus groups on Facebook asking where is there a good and cheap salon,” Dudley said. “It's an oxymoron. Cheap doesn't mean good, or safe for that matter. 

“Please consider your own health,” she said. “Clip coupons at the grocery store to save money, not for your pedicure”

MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria that is resistant to several antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2017, a man in Indiana needed his leg amputated after a pedicurist used a callus cutter, a razor used to shave hard skin off of the bottoms of feet, Dudley said. Credo blades, which are cheese grater-like tools, or any razor-like implements are illegal for a salon to use. 

“Senior citizens, diabetics and those who suffer from autoimmune disease are more susceptible to infection if salons are not disinfecting tools and spas properly,” Dudley said. “For those with autoimmune disease, warm water can feel good, but can create micro fissures that can let in bacteria. Pregnant women need to be especially careful. Too much pressure during a foot massage can lead to premature labor.” 

Look for the license

The Georgia State Board of Cosmetology states a license must be posted for each cosmetologist. 

“Ask to see their ID and make sure the name matches with the license. If not, run and don't look back. ‘New management’ may mean they purchased the license as well,” advised Dudley.

Dudley said she has spent thousands of dollars and traveled all over the world to receive training as a nail technician. 

“So many people are not licensed,” she said. “There are so many options and ways to receive education and training. There is no excuse to operate a non-standard salon.”

Cleanliness is key

The State Board of Cosmetology has very specific guidelines for ensuring that pedicures in salons are safe. For instance, the board mandates all tools and implements be disinfected by complete immersion in any EPA-registered, hospital-grade, bactericidal, virucidal and fungicidal disinfectant that is prepared and used according to the manufacturer’s directions. If your salon is not doing this, find a salon that does. Your health may depend on it, Dudley said. 

A plastic bag lining the basin is not enough. Warm water and dark crevices in the pedicure spa chairs are where bacteria can thrive. The Board of Cosmetology’s sanitary regulations describe in detail the proper method for cleaning the foot spas, including thoroughly disinfecting all pedicure units after each client for at least 10 minutes. 

If you are not witnessing this being done in your nail salon, it’s time to find another salon, Dudley said. In addition, salons are required to maintain a record or log book containing the dates and times of all pedicure equipment cleaning and disinfection procedures. The Cosmetology Board states those records must be made available for review upon request by a consumer or inspector. 

Re-think what a pedicure actually does for your feet

“I do waterless pedicures,” Dudley said. “I can give a safe pedicure with phenomenal results. I don’t use pumice stones, which can harbor bacteria. I use an angel foot file. It can be disinfected. I personally use products from Germany with urea in them to nourish the skin.

“Our feet carry our bodies around,” she said. “We are not babies. Baby-soft feet are not attainable. Long periods of walking, standing or running can create calluses, corns and layers of dead skin on feet. Removing all of that protection at once creates cracks, bleeding, pain and allows potential bacteria to seep in. You need multiple appointments to achieve soft feet.

“I'm a high-end boutique,” she said. “I try to help my customers feel pampered, valued, worthy and give them my undivided attention. I'm not watching the clock and trying to see how fast I can finish and get another client.”

Dudley said she uplifts people from their fingers and toes. 

"I send up little prayers for my individual clients,” she said. “Give me guiding hands. You just never know what people are going through.”

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