Nail salons ‘high-risk’ zones for infection, podiatrists say

Brisbane 4000

Podiatrists say they are seeing an increase in the number of clients presenting with fungal and bacterial infections caused or exacerbated by “questionable” practices at nail salons.

Key points:

  • Podiatrists say they are concerned with hygiene and sanitisation practices at nail salons
  • They say “inappropriate involvement” by nail technicians is resulting in serious conditions
  • The industry is calling for tighter regulation and enforcement of safety standards

Joe Brooks, a podiatrist and a director of the Australian Podiatry Association (APA), told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Steve Austin the industry was concerned by the number of clients presenting with issues that started at nail bars.

“It’s fair to say we are concerned with the hygiene practices at play in these nails salons,” Mr Brooks said.

“The hygiene standards are very, very mixed across the states and some of the practices in these nail salons are … questionable.

“That would definitely increase the risk of bacterial infections and also fungal nail.

“I can also say that I’ve [personally] had patients come into these nail bars who have either had incorrect treatments or their nail health has really deteriorated after being to one of these nail bars.”

Helen Cox said she had lived with the painful results of a bad pedicure for several years.

“I got a voucher [from a friend] because honestly, I wouldn’t have gone myself otherwise, so I thought I may as well use it,” she said.

“It was OK but then not long after, I got infected in both of my big toenails and they’re still affected now.

“It took two or three years of trying different treatments … I got laser treatment … they [doctors] took the toenail off and it still grew back with fungus. It’s been eight to 10 years.”


The APA says nail technicians are inadequately equipped to deal with foot problems. (Pexels: Ashley James)

In a statement, the APA said there had been “a recent spate of concerns” expressed by its podiatrists.

“A number of podiatrists have reported that they have treated conditions caused or exacerbated by inappropriate involvement by nail salon attendants,” it said.

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‘Low prices may come at a cost’

Mr Brooks said the issues stemmed from inadequate sterilisation techniques.

“Podiatrists are regulated by AHPRA [the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency] and they adhere to the same infection-control guidelines as doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals,” Mr Brooks said.

“These nail bars don’t have to meet these regulations and obviously that means that they can keep their prices lower, but those low prices may come at a cost of other things.”


Podiatrists believe the issues stem from a combined lack of training and general understanding of sterilisation practices. (Flickr: Angie Muldowney CC BY-SA 2.0)

The APA, like the cosmetic industry, is calling for tighter regulation.

“As a commercial business, they do need to meet regular hygiene standards [but] it’s not as onerous as what podiatrists do,” Mr Brooks said.

“If you put yourself in the environment where there’s more chances, or more risk of you contracting a condition, I’d probably say that you’re at definite high risk of coming down with a bacterial infection or fungal nail infection.”

What you can do to protect yourself

For many people, a regular visit to the nail salon is an essential part of their self-care routine.

Sanitary conditions vary from salon to salon so these are some simple steps you can take to minimise your level of risk:

  • Avoid the nail salon if you have an open wound or scab on your hands or feet, as well as if you have diabetes or a compromised immune system
  • Observe the tools being used and make sure they are stainless steel and presented in sealed packages. Or, if they are previously used, they should be soaked in jars of an appropriate disinfectant
  • Ensure the water used in basins is fresh and filled in front of you. Jetted tubs have a higher risk of being unsanitary

And bear in mind, cost of service is not necessarily an indicator for risk of infection.


For many women, nail treatments are part of their self-care routine. (Wikicommons: Twingo CC2.1)

Mr Brooks suggests if you do notice something awry with your service, report the salon.

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“I’d really encourage people to do this,” he said.

“If they have concerns with a rogue nail bar or a rogue salon, then they need to get in touch with either their state health department or the local council.

“Most of the way that these local nail salons are regulated is via local councils, which is very different to podiatrists because we’re regulated by a federal healthcare body.

“I think the onus is really on the person that is affected. If they have come down with some concerns then they do need to report it to the authorities so these practices are stamped out so we can have less people with concerns about their foot and ankle health.”

Mr Brooks agreed podiatrists could deliver the same “pedicure-style” service as a nail salon, with the exception of applying polishes and other nail enhancements.

“We obviously take your foot health really seriously and we want to be the people that help prevent concerns,” he said.

“We also are there to diagnose and treat foot health conditions.”