Could a single trip to the nail salon change your life forever? (Kenneth Willardt/Trunk Archive)
For most women, the worst thing that’s happened at a nail salon is that they’ve chosen a polish color they end up regretting — or maybe they’ve had their nails clipped a little too close. But for one 22-year-old woman in Brazil a manicure turned potentially deadly: Getting her nails done may have given her HIV.
The young woman, whose case is detailed in the journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, was recently diagnosed with advanced HIV yet failed to meet any of the standard conditions for transmission — she’d never had sex, a blood transfusion or surgery, or gotten a piercing or tattoo.
Doctors were befuddled as to how she had contracted the virus.
After confirming her claims, her doctors dug deeper, searching for any incident that could have infected her. The only possibility: The patient recalled sharing manicure instruments 10 years prior with her cousin, a manicurist who was later diagnosed with HIV. Detailed analyses revealed that the two women were, in fact, infected with highly similar strains of the virus, leading the researchers to conclude that manicure instruments are potential routes of HIV transmission.
Although most of us aren’t sharing cuticle scissors with an HIV-infected friend, the majority of women — and a number of men — have probably gotten a manicure at a nail salon, where instruments are regularly reused. Disinfection standards vary from state to state, although most include these steps, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): Wash the instruments in soap and water, soak them in a disinfectant for 10 to 30 minutes, rinse the tools in clean water and dry them with a clean cloth, then store them in a clean, covered area.
The problem is, there are more than 48,000 nail salons in the United States, according to industry publication Nails Magazine, and we can’t possibly know what’s happening in the back room of every salon, although state inspections are supposed to catch any violations. But that may not be happening as often as it should be: New York, for example, has 27 inspectors. This small group of officials is responsible for reviewing all of the state’s salons, including the vast number in New York City alone, according to a recent report. Over a four-year period, 19 percent of the state’s salons were cited for sanitary violations.
In addition, “Salons come under the department of cosmetology, not the department of health. So they don’t have the same rigidity for inspection,” said Dr. David A. Johnson, a professor of medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School.
Nationwide, the problem may be even greater than the New York numbers suggest. Dr. Robert Spalding, a podiatrist and author of Death by Pedicure: The Dirty Secrets of Nail Salons, estimates that 75 percent of U.S. nail salons don’t follow state guidelines for disinfection of instruments. And even if they do comply, the requirements may not be stringent enough. “The states don’t require nail salons to sterilize their instruments,” Spalding told Yahoo Health. “They only require them to do basic disinfection.”
Those jars of blue liquid you see on salon counters contain the disinfecting agent — and it’s only effective when used correctly 100 percent of the time. “If they don’t change the [disinfecting agent] on a daily basis, if they don’t soak the instrument for 10 minutes, and if they don’t hand-clean it before they soak it, none of that stuff works,” he said.