Watch out For Dangerous Pedicure Pitfalls

Unless you bring your own, you have no idea what's on that foot brushThinking of getting a pedicure this week? Think again! While some pedicures are perfectly safe, a bad one could lead to anything from an ingrown toenail for a perfectly healthy individual to a foot amputation in a high-risk person like a diabetic.  

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 entered a salon in Thailand looking for a specialty fish-tank pedicure in 2010. Just four years previously, 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 novelty Thai pedicure, where you place your feet in th fish tank and the small fish supposedly eat the dead skin cells off your feet to rejuvenate the skin. 

Because the spa didn't take proper hygiene precautions, Victoria contracted another infection, known as Schwelmenella, from the unsanitary fish tank. The potentially deadly infection is known to eat away at bone and, because it took some time for the young woman to receive a proper diagnosis, the infection progressed through her foot. The rest of her bog toe was amputated, but Victoria's problems didn't end there.

Without her big toe, Victoria's balance was completely thrown off. Not only did the additional pressure cause painful callouses to form on her smaller toes, it also left the remaining digits on her feet vulnerable to further infection. With her toe health already compromised, the infections caused ulcers (hard-to-heal wounds) to form on her toes. Eventually, doctors had no choice but to amputate Victoria's remaining toes (click hear to see the devastating pictures, if that's your thing.) 

In warning other women about the hidden dangers of pedicures, 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 much more common than you think. It is absolutely crucial to think about safety before heading out to get a pedicure. 

Staying Safe at the Nail Salon 

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 pedicure dos and don’ts, courtesy of the American Podiatric Medicine Association (APMA).

Do: Bring Your Own Equipment
You may feel silly walking into a nail salon, but bringing your own equipment is really the only way to ensure that your feet won’t be contaminated by other people’s germs. In theory, salons own enough equipment to be able to thoroughly sterilize things like pumice stones in between client visits, but in practice, not all of them do, so investing in your own foot file may be annoying, but it will save you from many an infection.

Don’t: Shave Off Your Calluses
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. If, however, you have any kind of foot pain after getting a pedicure, come and see Dr. Andrew Schneider as soon as you can. 

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.