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Proper Nail Salon Hygiene

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Cleaning, sanitizing

Proper nail salon hygiene is very important for the safety of both the nail professional and the client. There are different steps and levels in the decontamination process.

The main levels are:
Cleaning / Sanitizing
Disinfecting
Sterilizing

Let’s take a closer look at each one of them.

Cleaning / Sanitizing

This level of decontamination involves the use of liquid soap and water. Hard surfaces, tools, and hands and feet should be washed diligently before any service. Both the nail pro and the client need to use an alcohol-based skin sanitizer on their hands and feet at the beginning of each service.

Hand sanitizers/cleansers should not take the place of liquid soap and water. However, they are useful after washing, and during service or treatment. They usually use alcohol in a gel. The gel, which evaporates slowly, allows the alcohol to be in contact with the skin for longer. They will not remove debris or dust. Be careful to use a reputable brand. Many manufacturers have been stopped and may be fined for producing substandard products that do not do the job that they claim!

Using soap and water is also an ESSENTIAL step before the next levels of decontamination can be efficiently carried out! Every tool must be washed with liquid soap and water, using a brush to clean away all debris and oils which will hamper the decontamination process.

Disinfecting

For hard surfaces, a general-purpose disinfectant is sufficient. The manufacturer’s instructions must be always followed.  General-purpose disinfectants will destroy a large number of pathogens. Perfectly adequate for the job. Avoiding the skin is essential when diluting them but they are far less irritating when diluted. Again, choose the right one for the job. For example, use one for hard surfaces but look for a different one (probably stronger) suitable for items such as pedicure bowls. This is still not suitable for skin contact but can be used to clean desks, floors, light switches, door handles, etc. This will not adequately clean metal tools.

For tools, a hospital-grade or high-grade disinfectant is needed. These often claim to destroy 99.9% of all pathogens. This claim needs to be certified. In the UK, the standard uses a series of numbers with the prefix ‘EN’. This falls under the REACH regulations and COSHH regulations. 

Each product should be very specific with the pathogens it will destroy and, for this level as an alternative to sterilization, the more the better. It should also be suitable for what is being disinfected i.e., metal tools. Chlorides, for example, can corrode metal. 

What is most important is following the manufacturer’s instructions with regards to dilution, length of time for submersion, and how long the solution will last e.g., 1 day, 1 week, etc. The method will be ineffective if these are not followed exactly. It should have clear instructions on how to use it and it will be strong enough to be harmful to the skin. For nail services with no autoclave, this level is non-negotiable. It must be part of any hygiene routine for metal tools. If the instructions are followed to the letter, it will be good enough for any minor contact with bodily fluids. A simple disinfectant will not do this job effectively.

Ideally, everything except metal tools should be single use only and discarded. But a tool spray can be useful, certainly as a quick clean while working with the same client. There are some files that are washable. If there is no possibility of any contact with the skin, these can be scrubbed under running water to remove any debris. Then sprayed (or submerged) and allowed to dry.

Sterilizing

This is the highest level of decontamination and is achieved with the use of an autoclave.
Autoclaves are very similar to domestic pressure cookers but designed for the job. Therefore, they are more efficient. They use the steam from water heated under pressure, that boils at a much higher temperature, usually 160C or above. This is enough to kill ALL pathogens including spores. It is the destruction of spores that makes a big difference.

Clean tools are placed in the autoclave and the manufacturer’s instructions are followed. The cycle can be relatively short, around 15-20 mins. However, it is important that they are tested on a very regular basis. This can be weekly or monthly using a spore test. Without this regular testing, they can become ineffective. They are also quite expensive and probably only larger salons can afford the investment. The hospital-grade disinfectant is a suitable alternative for nail services.

Another option is dry heat sterilizers. These can be effective and usually less expensive than autoclaves. They can reach a suitable temperature but take a lot longer, often more than 90mins, so can be costly on electricity. Cheaper versions may not be efficient and would be a second choice to autoclaves.

What is NOT acceptable under any circumstances:

  • UV cabinets:
    These are very often called ‘sterilizers’ but this is not accurate! What they do is create a sterile environment where ‘clean’ tools can be safely stored before use. They DO NOT sterilize tools, not even clean them. There is a method of sterilization that uses UV energy, but this is UV-C at specific wavelengths, and that needs specialized training. Skin and eyes cannot be exposed to it. It is a marketing description that is very misleading. 
  • Glass bead sterilizers: 
    These have been proven to be ineffective for metal tools. The beads do reach a very high temperature but need to be in direct contact with the surface of the tool to work. Due to the shape only a tiny part of each bead is in direct contact and less so for the hinges of scissors, nippers, etc.
  • Baby Bottle Sterilizers:
    These do not sterilize, not even provide a high-level disinfectant. If you think about it a baby bottle taken from this solution is not rinsed out so traces of the disinfectant must be safe enough for a baby to ingest!
  • Wet wipes:
    Some of these can be effective for some tools for cleaning and low-level disinfecting. But it is impossible to come close to sterilizing as this can only be done with harsh chemicals or extreme heat.

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