Is it safe to go to a nail salon now? What experts want you to know

Here's what you need to know before you book an appointment.
Broward County In Florida Enters Phase One Of Reopening
Are you considering your first trip back to the nail salon? Here's what you need to know.Johnny Louis / Getty Images

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/ Source: TODAY
By Chrissy Callahan

If you've been craving a trip to the nail salon over the past few months, you'll be pleased to hear that many locations across the country are beginning to reopen. But as excited as you may be to get your beloved manis and pedis once again, returning to the nail salon also comes with its own set of questions and concerns.

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For instance, what protective measures are salons implementing to keep customers safe? And is it really safe to be in such close contact with a nail technician right now? To help you make the most informed decision possible, TODAY Style consulted health and nail experts to learn everything you need to know about the new nail salon experience.

With coronavirus still spreading, salons are trying to ensure a safe experience for employees and customers.Pedro Portal / Getty Images

What health risks does a trip to the nail salon pose right now?

When you head to the nail salon for a manicure or pedicure, getting up close and personal with your nail technician is par for the course. But that sustained, in-person contact can pose some risks now.

"The biggest risk of a nail appointment is that you’re in an indoor environment and close to another person. You are being exposed to their respiratory droplets, which can carry the coronavirus," Dr. Nate Favini, medical lead at primary care practice Forward, told TODAY Style.

Social distancing can be nearly impossible during a nail service, so personal protective equipment is critical to ensure the safety of both employees and clients. "Masks may help prevent transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from the person wearing a mask, but they aren't a fail-safe," Dr. Natasha Chida, assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said.

There are multiple ways that coronavirus can spread in a nail salon, so it's important to be aware of your surroundings and avoid touching too many shared surfaces. It's also wise to carry hand sanitizer with you. "Since there is touching of hands involved and the use of shared tools, it is important that proper hand hygiene is employed regularly," Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in Mount Sinai Hospital's department of dermatology, said.

There are several noteworthy risks for customers, but some health experts worry more about nail salon staff.

"The individuals who work in nail salons have a high risk for exposure. They have frequent and prolonged encounters with individuals, yet they do not know a person’s status for COVID-19. They are also in an aerosolized environment with nail and polish dust," said Kathryn Tart, dean and professor at the University of Houston College of Nursing.

From masks to staggered appointments, nail salons are taking safety precautions seriously as they begin to reopen.Johnny Louis / Getty Images

What safety measures should salons have in place?

In order to keep both customers and employees healthy, nail salons that have already reopened are implementing increased safety measures. So if you're planning on heading back for a nail service soon, you'll want to make sure your local salon is doing everything in its power to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Please research what new policies are implemented to provide safety to you and your manicurist. Each state and county may be different. Your nail salon should have a 'consumer safety' phone number and website to quickly navigate through what is now required in all nail salons," celebrity manicurist and nail salon owner Michelle Saunders James said.

Need a quick cheat sheet? Keep an eye out for these protective measures at your salon:

  • Personal protective equipment: "In addition to wearing masks, nail technicians should wear gloves while providing services," Dr. Brian Reed, chair of clinical sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine, said. Some salons are also adding shields between the client and nail technician.
  • Social distancing practices: "Customers should be placed in every other seat and there shouldn’t be people gathered in close proximity in a waiting room," Reed said.
  • Frequent sanitizing of tools: "Tools should be washed and disinfected after each use, towels should be clean, files/buffers should be brand new, and table and chairs should be disinfected between services," Los Angeles-based nail artist and manicurist Chelsea King said.
  • Staggered appointments: "Appointments should be scheduled to limit the amount of people in the salon and walk-in clients should wait either in their own cars or outside," Reed said.
  • Other precautions: Some salons are requiring temperature checks for customers upon entry and some are implementing contactless payment.

Since coronaviurs is spread through respiratory droplets, proper ventilation in the salon is also pretty important. And even though it's not always practical, some experts argue that it could be safer to get a manicure outside.

Customers can also keep themselves safe in several ways when they return to the nail salon.Getty Images

What you can do to keep yourself safe

When it comes to creating a sanitary environment, nail salons bear most of the burden, but customers also play an important role in preventing the spread of coronavirus. For starters, you shouldn't leave the house if you're feeling sick. And if you are feeling fine, you should come to the salon prepared to protect yourself and others.

"I recommend wearing a mask during the entire time you are at the salon. Wash your hands before and after your nail service. If you want to support your local nail salon, following the new rules will be paramount," Saunders James said.

If you're hoping to minimize the amount of surfaces you touch in the salon, consider bringing your own nail polish or, at the very least, sanitize your hands after you browse through the salon's colorful offerings. You might also be tempted to bring your own tools, but Julie Kandalec, celebrity manicurist and author of "Nail Art Design Book,” advises against it.

"Cuticle nippers, like knives, are not one-size-fits-all. They have shorter handles for someone with smaller hands, and they have different size blades, too. Plus, salons use hospital grade disinfectant (and likely 450-degree heat sterilizers too), which most people probably don't have at home, even now," Kandalec said. "And, lastly, the salon becomes liable should you get an infection with your own tools, so they shouldn't allow you to use them anyways."

While you're sitting getting your nails done, King says you should avoid using your phone (to avoid cross-contamination) and have your payment ready to go (keep your card in your pocket instead of deep in your purse). "It is important to not only protect yourself during a service, but the health of your nail tech as well because he/she is in contact with many people per day," she said.

Ultimately, consumers have to decide if they're comfortable going back to a nail salon.Getty Images

So, is it safe to go to the nail salon right now?

After weighing the pros and cons of returning to the salon, you may still be wondering if it's safe to do so. But unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question right now. "So much depends on what’s happening epidemiologically in your local area, your personal risk of a severe infection, your contacts and your risk tolerance," Favini said.

Several experts TODAY spoke to said it's worth returning to a salon as long as they have clearly stated what safety precautions they are taking.

"Nail salons are using the highest level of disinfection imaginable, so you should feel much more at ease. But of course, I can't speak for everyone's comfort level and health. So if you want to dip a toe in, I would recommend an abbreviated service, like a polish change, to check out their disinfection protocols first," Kandalec said.

Lisa Logan, celebrity manicurist and owner of The Nail Suite by Lisa Logan, is in the process of installing plexiglass partitions for each station in her salon and thinks nail salons deserve the opportunity to adapt to our "new normal."

"I believe nail salons should get the same chance to try to get back on their feet like all the other businesses. I think we all want to do what's right and also do our part to actively get back to opening the world back up, just in the safest way," she said.

Still, others cautioned that the current risks of nail services might outweigh the benefits.

"A manicure is a luxury personal care service, and it requires close, sustained physical contact. Most importantly, it is optional, and it can and should be avoided while there is ample community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19," said Carolyn Cannuscio, a social epidemiologist and associate professor of family medicine and community health at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Whether or not you decide to book a nail service now, the most important thing to do is follow safety precautions and your gut.

"If you don’t feel comfortable going into a salon yet, I think you should wait a little longer before going in. There are so many resources online for DIY manicures. Additionally, if you aren’t willing to sit down for an hour and a half appointment just yet, a great option is to go in for just a manicure and try painting your nails at home," King said.