1. Dirty digs. When celeb nail artist Deborah Lippmann pops into a mani-pedi place, she always scouts out two areas: the corners and the bathroom. “If they’re clean, it’s usually a sign of higher standards.”
2. Secondhand fumes. While that nail-polish smell is unavoidable, your eyes shouldn’t water upon entry. Workers are the most vulnerable to fumes, “but even short exposure to hazardous chemicals can be harmful,” says Thu Quach, Ph.D., a research scientist with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California who has done extensive research on nail-salon safety.
3. Tainted tools. A dirty nail kit can transfer serious germs, which can result in anything from a fungal infection to a staph infection, says Lippmann. “Imagine if you went to your dentist, and he used a tray of tools he’d used on another patient,” says Lauren Breese, director of professional development for OPI. Autoclave machines (which use steam to kill germs) and hospital-grade soaking solutions are effective, but it’s tough to know if a salon is sanitizing the tools long enough or using the right formula. Also, certain tools should never be reused, like nail files or buffing sponges, which get clogged with other people’s dead skin. To play it safe, Lippmann recommends bringing in your own kit.
4. Janky Jacuzzi. Pedi tubs are a potential germ farm, especially Jacuzzi filters, which get trapped with dead skin. If your local pedi place doesn’t do jet-free bowls, inspect the tub before they fill it, and see if there’s any grit, grime, or gunk. “If so, I say, ‘I’m sorry, but would you clean this for me?” says Lippmann.
5. Polluted polish. If a client has a funky fingernail — or an open sore near the nail bed — communal polish can get contaminated, says Lippmann. While she admits this is “a worst-case scenario,” Lippmann prefers bringing her own polish. A BYOP policy may also ensure a longer-lasting mani. “I constantly see salons adding remover to the polishes so they last longer.”
6. Hairy situation. Going for a wax? The treatment table should be covered in a fresh paper sheet, and the wax pot shouldn’t resemble a messy melted candle, says Melanie Gilliland, an expert for European Wax Center. And if they double-dip? Run.