Unless you bring your own, you have no idea what's on that foot brush

Thinking of getting a pedicure this week? Think again! While some pedicures are perfectly safe, a bad one could spell trouble. At best, it could mean an ingrown toenail. But at worst? A pedicure infection could lead to pain for a perfectly healthy individual, or a foot amputation in a high-risk person like a diabetic.

Pedicure Infection Stories to Scare You Straight

Unfortunately, a 29-year-old Australian woman had to learn this lesson the hard way. After a pedicure that went wrong, she ended up losing all five toes on her foot to infection and a necessary amputation.

Like diabetics, Victoria Curthoys was already vulnerable when she visisted a Thai salon looking for a fish pedicure in 2010. Just four years earlier, after stepping on some glass, the young woman had contracted an infection and had half her big toe amputated. Still, she decided to go ahead and try out a spa pedicure. She wanted the one where you place your feet in a tank and small fish eat dead skin cells off your feet to rejuvenate the skin.

Here's the problem. The spa she chose didn't take proper hygiene precautions. So Victoria contracted another infection, known as Schwelmenella. This is a pretty nasty pedicure infection. It eats away at bone. Even worse? Because it took some time for Victoria to receive a proper diagnosis, the infection progressed through her foot. She lost the rest of her big toe. And Victoria's problems didn't end there.

Without her big toe, Victoria's balance was completely thrown off. Now, the extra pressure caused painful callouses to form on her smaller toes. Plus, it left them vulnerable to further infection. With her toe health already compromised, the infections caused ulcers (hard-to-heal wounds) to form on those toes. Eventually, doctors had no choice but to amputate Victoria's remaining toes. (Click here to see the devastating pictures, if that's your thing.)

In warning other women about the hidden dangers of a pedicure infection, Victoria said, "When I was in Thailand I decided to use a fish spa. I thought nothing of it as I’d watched the owner set up the system and it looked very clean, but how wrong I was. I ended up getting another bone infection in my big toe and it took doctors over a year to figure out what type of bug I had. By the time they’d realized what it was, my entire toe bone had been eaten away."

Of course, Victoria's situation is extreme and rare, but spa-related injuries are more common than you think. It is absolutely crucial to think about safety before heading out to get a pedicure.

Pedicure Steps to Stay Safe at the Nail Salon

Want to avoid terrible consequences like the ones Victoria has to live with for the rest of her life? Listen to your Houston podiatrist and follow these tips from the American Podiatric Medicine Association (APMA).

Do: Bring Your Own Equipment

You may feel silly, but bringing your own equipment to a salin is really the only way to protect your feet from other people’s germs. In theory, salons can thoroughly sterilize their pumice stones between client visits. But in practice? Many don't. So investing in your own foot file may be annoying, but it will save you from many a pedicure infection.

Don’t: Shave Off Your CallusesTrimming cuticles in a salon is a major no-no for healthy feet

A callus is a thickened area of skin that should only be removed by a podiatrist. The most your beautician should every do is file a corn or callus a little bit, but the best idea is to leave it alone entirely.

Do: Make an early appointment

The busier a salon is, the less likely they are to properly sanitize equipment between customers. If you go early in the day during a weekday, chances are things will be calmer (and cleaner!)

Don’t : Even go near that whirpool!

The only way to properly clean a whirlpool is to drain it and scrub down the whole tub, even the drain, where sloughed-off skin can get stuck. Because it’s so time consuming, salons don’t do it, which is why so many people have picked up bacterial or fungal infections from foot baths.

Do: Skip the polish

Every part of your body needs to breathe and your toenails are no exception. The APMA suggest removing polish at least every two-to-three weeks to avoid getting dry, cracked nails.

Don’t: Cut Your Cuticles

When you take off that protective barrier around your nail, you leave yourself open to infection. Instead of taking off the cuticle, you can let your beautician soften it with cream or oil and then gently push it back.

Getting an in-salon pedicure is never completely safe, but following these tips should go a long way to protecting your feet. Want an even safer idea? Just give yourself an in-home pedicure instead!

6 Easy Steps to a Perfect Home Pedicure

Follow these simple steps to get the healthy, beautiful feet we all want.

1. Safely smooth skin. When your feet get smoothed at a salon, you’re left at their mercy. You can only hope the water filters in their soaking spas are properly cleaned, not to mention the pumice used to exfoliate the foot. At home, soak your feet for about 15 minutes before using your own pumice stone to remove thick, dead skin. For antibacterial power, add black tea to the soaking water—it can help prevent fungal infections like athlete’s foot.

2. Towel off. Fungus flourishes in dark, damp spots, so make sure your feet are completely dry (especially between the toes) before going to the next step.

3. Lock in moisture. Your whole foot needs to have moisture replenished. Especially after a long soak, which can be drying, but your heels need extra attention. If your feet aren’t that dry, any moisturizer or foot cream will do. But if you’re concerned about cracking, look for creams that contain petrolatum or lactic acid to draw moisture into the skin. If you have calluses that need softening, try a product with urea (I sell a few in my Houston podiatrist office.)Safe nail polishes, applied in your own home, are a great way to protect your feet

4. Remember your nails—just like your feet, your toenails can lose moisture. To keep them hydrated, apply cuticle cream, vitamin E oil or Vaseline over your entire nail, then gently rub it in.

5. Trim the right way—Contrary to what you might think, the way you cut your toenails does matter. Trim them too short, or in a haphazard way, and you put yourself at risk of hangnails or, worse, ingrown toenails. The safest way to cut? Use a nail scissor with a curved handle so you can follow your nails’ natural shape. The, always leave a little white visible. And leave your cuticles in place, too. You can gently push them down, but don’t remove them, since doing so leaves you vulnerable to infection.

6. Choose your polish wisely. Some nail polishes can dry out your nails. Do yourself a favor and choose products that are free of formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate. When it’s time to remove old polish and start this process all over again, choose a polish remover that is alcohol-free.

Of course, if you run into any trouble, such as a painful ingrown toenail, contact our Houston podiatry office for an immediate appointment.




Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.