I recently had a conversation with a nail professional who was concerned about one of her clients. Apparently, she heard on TV that everything is covered with bacteria, so now she washes her hands twenty times a day, which is having a horrible effect on her skin and nails.
The news media tends to exaggerate these risks and overly frightens the public. In the last ten years, many have become overly afraid of bacteria. This frightens many potential clients away from salons since they perceive there is a big danger. The same is true for fungi, which many refer to as “fungus”. Even their mention causes many to worry.
Here are the facts: Most bacteria and fungi are not only harmless, but they are also very beneficial. Very few of them are “pathogens”, which means that very few types can cause infections in humans. Many of those that can become infectious, only do so under unusual circumstances.
The “microbiota” is the term we use to describe normally occurring microorganisms that live in and on our bodies. In fact, there are more microorganisms in the human body than there are cells! There are about 10 trillion human cells in our bodies and, according to recent and more accurate measurements, we know there are also about 10 trillion microorganisms in and on our bodies. Knowing this makes it seem kind of silly to be so afraid of them, especially when they do so much good for us and keep us healthy.
There are about five hundred species of microorganisms in our bodies, and about fifty different species account for the majority of them. These microorganisms live in harmony with us and assist the body in many ways. For instance, microorganisms break down sugars, carbohydrates, fiber, and many other nutrients so we can digest them. Without these microorganisms, we could not efficiently process these much-needed substances, and would eventually starve to death.
Microorganisms also help make our immune systems stronger and work better; they keep the more potentially harmful microorganisms under control so they don’t become overpopulated. Most of those that are infectious are “opportunistic” organisms. This means they are normally harmless. They only become harmful when the immune system fails to work properly, or due to side-effects of drugs or medications, over fatigue, malnutrition, or as a result of injury. In other words, when an opportunity develops, a few microorganisms can take advantage of the situation to grow and thrive.
For example, if the skin is cut or abraded, this allows normally harmless bacteria to get past the skin’s natural defensive barrier to gain access to tissues where these microorganisms normally don’t live. They DON’T burrow or just absorb into the skin to cause infections. That’s important to know. Without the normal controls to keep their populations in check, when some bacteria get into damaged skin they can get out of control and may grow to unusually large numbers to cause infections. Most of these infections by pathogens can be prevented by eating well, getting plenty of rest, and avoiding injury to the skin. The skin is a natural barrier between us and the outside world. The skin is designed to keep us healthy and to protect us from nature.
Nature is a dangerous place. We don’t live in nature anymore, so we tend to forget how dangerous it can be. Pathogens are natural! Nail salons have some great methods to help protect us from these inherent natural dangers. What we call cleaning and disinfection is an important form of “infection control”. These are important ways to help eliminate the “opportunities” for infection. These procedures help by preventing pathogens from reaching potentially dangerous levels, keeping their populations well below concentrations where they could become harmful. Proper cleaning and disinfection reduce the levels of potentially harmful pathogens by 99.99%. This tremendously reduces the risks of infections to the skin or nails. This is another way to prevent cuts, abrasions, or other damage to the skin while performing salon services. When these practices are done, the risks of infection drop even closer to “zero”.
What increases the risks for clients? One way to put clients at greater risk is for a nail professional to ignore their responsibility to properly clean and disinfect their tools and work station between each client, every time! Another way to increase risks is to play “doctor” and attempt to treat clients that have an active nail or skin infection. Nail infections are medical issues, not cosmetic issues. In many countries, only trained medical professionals are allowed treat infections on other people as a part of a paid service. When nail professionals attempt to treat these problems in the salon, they prevent clients from getting proper diagnosis and treatment. Also, they run the risk of spreading the infection to other clients, which could ruin the reputation of the salon.
My advice is to continue to be a stickler about cleaning and disinfection, and to be proud of it. All nail professionals should make sure they are adhering to the proper cleaning and disinfection procedures. Never cut living skin and don’t perform services on clients with any type of infection. Instead, always refer them to a medical professional for proper care and treatment. Let your clients know that this is how you do business and they’ll keep coming to you, trusting that they are in good hands.