When her husband called her at work asking her to join him for an impromtu client dinner, Susan Dundern decided to treat herself to a manicure on her lunch hour. Instead of going to her regular salon, Dundern decided to try out a small, no-frills nail shop near her downtown Vancouver office. There was no wait and the price was right: $10 for a manicure; $15 for a pedicure.

Dundern was in and out within half an hour and her nails looked great. But a few days later, her middle finger started to ache. “I thought it was a hangnail,” she says. Soon after, the nail started to lift away from the skin underneath, which was red and peeling. She made an appointment with her doctor, who diagnosed a fungal infection and suggested antibiotics. Leery of the possible side effects of the medication, Dundern decided to use a topical anti-fungal cream instead. At first it looked like the cream was working. After a few weeks, she stopped using the ointment. Then a month later the fungus returned to her middle finger and then spread to the ring finger too.

In the United States, a salon client successfully sued for US$150,000 after unwittingly contracting an infection from a nail shop. Yet in Canada, there have been no successful suits against a salon for unsanitary manicures.

And if you think a discount manicure can be risky, the infection rate for pedicures is even greater because there are more ways to come into contact with unsanitary conditions: change-room floors, foot baths, communal sandals and even improper toenail clipping. The consequences can be scary, from a minor rash or boils on your legs that cause scarring to internal infections. “I’ll never take a simple manicure lightly again,” says Dundern. SALON MUSTS
Look for these signs of a top-notch nail shop:

1.Licensed salon and aestheticians. Look for the certificate near the entrance, or ask to see one.

2.Fill out a heath form to indicate any allergies or medication you’re taking that could make you susceptible to infection.

3.In the bathroom, disposable towels and soap in a dispenser instead of bars of soap.

4.Fresh towels at every aesthetician station.

5.Stainless-steel or ceramic tools. Plastic can’t be sterilized.

6.Emery boards and nail buffers that are discarded after each use or disinfected.

7.Jetless foot baths. The water that returns into the pipes of a jet foot bath can’t be sterilized, which leaves you at risk if the person before you had a foot fungus.

8.Hospital-grade sanitizers. All tools should be kept in a solution in a closed container for at least 30 minutes between clients.

9.Two sets of tools for each aesthetician, unless they’re booking clients with 30 minutes between each (the length of time it takes to disinfect tools).

10.Paraffin wax that is used one time only. Your hands and feet should be dipped into a disposable container and the wax should be discarded afterward.

What you can do:

1.Ask if you can bring your own nail kit. Most salons will make up a professional kit with stainless-steel tools. Ask them to keep it at the salon so that they can sterlize it properly between your visits.

2.Ask to purchase a new bottle of nail polish every time you go, or bring your own nail polish. Some salons, such as Absolute Spas in Vancouver, include a polish in the price of a manicure or pedicure.