Summer's the ideal time to pamper yourself with a manicure and pedicure—a bright fresh polish looks great when your feet are on display. But before you stroll into your neighborhood nail salon, take these smart steps to avoid the unpleasant: a fungal or bacterial infection.

Pedicure Image - Masterfile

Do a cleanliness check

Of course the salon should look well-scrubbed and neat, without dirty tools or used paper slippers lying around. But take a sniff at the door: A strong chemical smell may signal that the salon needs to be better ventilated. Also, ask if foot-soaking tubs are cleaned between clients; I'm always really relieved when they wipe mine down right in front of me. You can even bring along your own bleach wipes and ask a salon employee to pass a wipe or two over the tub and any other spaces where you will be putting your bare feet.

Make sure tools are sterile

Ask how nail implements are sanitized between customers. The ideal answer: With an autoclave, which heat-sterilizes them. UV light boxes and chemical sterilization with germicide and fungicide can also do the trick.

Tote your own kit

If you’re a frequent salon visitor, think about purchasing an inexpensive drugstore manicure kit (with tools like an orange stick, nail buffer and nail file) to bring with you. Ask the salon if they’ll store it for you between appointments. If not, try this do-it-yourself kit-cleaning step: Soak your instruments in a solution of one part bleach to four parts water for 15 minutes.

Say no to the foot razor

Don’t let the manicurist scrape callused skin off your heels; this can put you at higher risk for an infection. Let a podiatrist handle any calluses you have. He or she can treat them and pinpoint possible causes —which can include a bone abnormality or shoe-fit problems that may point to the need for an orthotic.

Skip the clip

It’s fine to let the manicurist gently push cuticles back after they’ve been softened by a good soak, but cutting cuticles can expose you to infection.

Know the signs of infection

If you have a red, inflamed, swollen or tender area around a nail, contact your doctor right away. Infections under and around toenails can quickly become urgent; you’ll probably need antibiotics and/or an office procedure to relieve swelling. Report unusual nail discoloration —yellow, green, blue or black —as well. This can signal infection too.

3 Ways to Love Your Toes

Head Off Ingrown Toenails

Square-shaped nails are certainly the style these days. But make sure the manicurist leaves you with just a slight roundness at the outer edges of your toenails. That will cut the likelihood of painful ingrown toenails, which are more likely to occur when the corners of your nails are wide and square.

Do a Between-Pedicures Check

If you’re changing your polish, take a minute to examine your nails for brown spots. I’ve had a number of patients with melanoma under their toenails—their manicurists spotted it and saved their lives. Also, check for streaks of color under the nail; this can indicate trauma to the nail bed. If you spot either, see your dermatologist.

Give Nails Time to Breathe

If your nails are yellowish, you might be concerned about nail fungus (onychomycosis). But more often than not, the yellow hue is the result of using nail polish too consistently. Nail polishes can literally suffocate the nail, causing changes that can lead to yellowing. To get rid of the yellow tone, skip manicures and pedicures for six months.

Ellen Marmur, M.D., is chief of the division of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and co-author of Simple Skin Beauty (Atria, 2010).

From our sister publication, Remedy's Healthy Living (Summer 2011)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 21 Jun 2011

Last Modified: 22 Jan 2015