The next time you hit up a new salon for a mani-pedi, take note of how things are running before you plunk down that cash. After all, you risk picking up a nasty infection, getting a totally subpar polish job, or leaving with damaged nails and skin if you don’t vet your location. So. Not. Fun.
We asked the experts to point out the red flags that should make you turn right around and walk out.
There Aren’t Any Licenses Displayed
First and foremost, you only want to go to a place that employs technicians trained in proper manicure and pedicure procedures, as well as all of the related hygiene and safety issues. Most cities require that licenses be prominently displayed, and any legit salon will most certainly have them up—usually right where you check in, near the cash register. Don’t just glance; make sure the licenses are current and represent the people who are actually working there. Take note if there are many more nail technicians working than there are licenses displayed.
That distinctively strong odor of acrylic monomer in the air denotes a lack of ventilation and is a blaring sign that you're in a super-janky place. Quality salons will prioritize clean air and have a circulation system with fans blowing. In mild weather, many salons will even open doors to keep clean oxygen flowing in and noxious fumes from building up. Inhaling air laced with nail product fumes can give you a headache or make you feel dizzy and nauseous.
If the floor is filthy, the tools are not constantly UV-sterilized or offered new to each client, the manicures stations are not wiped down, or the bathrooms are unkempt, run. Gross, grimy magazines are another bad sign. Technicians should be taking breaks in a separate room and not eating meals at their stations. It’s a good sign if they’re using masks and gloves—not just for your safety, but for their own safety as well. Nail technicians are in contact with the toxic ingredients that can be found in polishes, lacquer removers, glues, gels, and other products all day.
The Pedicure Tubs Don’t Look Well-Kept
This is the biggest danger zone when it comes to nail salons (you’ve no doubt heard the horror stories). You’ll want to make sure tubs are fully sterilized before you dip your toe into any service, since this is where you’re most likely to pick up an infection or fungus. Water should be completely drained from both tubs and hand bowls, and receptacles should be cleaned with hospital-grade disinfectant after each pedicure. Chairs should be wiped down and any linens used should be fresh and new for each client, too.
The Polish Bottles Look Grungy
This could be a sign they’re reusing bottles by refilling them with questionable, unlabeled product. While a good manicurist may occasionally use acetone to thin out thickening lacquer in a pinch, this shouldn’t be something you’re seeing done regularly in the salon. If a salon is using old or expired products, you'll be left with subpar nails that bubble, streak, and chip in no time. It’s also a sign of poor salon hygiene.
You Just Get Bad Vibes
Does the salon just not feel “right”—perhaps cluttered, unclean, and cold? Are the workers unfriendly, in a constant rush, or otherwise agitated? Does it not seem like client satisfaction and good results are at all valued? Sometimes your gut just knows when something off, even if you can’t quite place what it is. As always, listen to that feeling, and head on out to better pastures elsewhere.