Not long ago, I was browsing in the mall when I was approached by a kiosk worker who started to buff my fingernail before I could say yes or no. After I walked away, an ugly thought took hold. What if that very same nail file had been used on countless other people? Ewwww.

A similar incident occurred during a massage when the masseuse began to use a cactus bristle brush against my skin as part of her routine. The entire time I was concerned about the reuse of the tool to relax, and was too polite to request that she not use it.

How to Stay Safe from the Hidden Dangers of the SpaSometimes the more you know, the worse off you are. But as a cosmetic dermatologist, I can’t help myself. The fact is, these are just two examples of the many ways you can pick up a skin virus or infection without even knowing it’s happening. And you may never know, because it may not present itself for weeks.

I may be overthinking things, but this only comes to my attention because of what I see regularly in my practice. I have many patients that have acquired warts from nail salons, the gym, and even from facials or waxing. Young women who come see me to treat tiny warts disseminated over the face or body commonly have a history of frequenting the spa or salon.

Bottom line: When you are using instruments on patients and not properly sterilizing them, it can lead to the transmission of diseases. While these skin conditions aren’t life threatening, the are often unpleasant to experience and difficult to treat.

Here are 5 Tips for A Safe Spa Experience

1. Ask if the salon or spa uses a heat autoclave to sterilize their instruments.

How to Stay Safe from the Hidden Dangers of the SpaAutoclaving entails placing instruments inside a machine utilizing intense pressure and high heat to destroy all organisms on tools. It is the gold standard for sterilizing even medical and surgical instruments. Establishments that use autoclaves will often have their instruments in sealed bags. Other spas or salons will use an alcohol-based solution to clean their instruments. That option, while helpful, is inferior to heat autoclaving.

2. Don’t soak your feet in the foot bath.

Unless a disposable liner is being used for each customer, I cannot think of a dirtier place to soak your feet. As appealing as a nice warm soak might sound, I have seen some terrible infections that were picked up at nail salons. One customer actually suffered an amputation of one of her toes due to a salon-acquired infection. The issue is that you never know who is going to pick up an infection. The vast majority of people have no such serious complication, but many will develop a wart or athletes foot.

3. Come prepared with personal supplies.

When in doubt, you cannot go wrong by being prepared and bringing in your own supplies. You may get a few looks by other customers, and cause the employees to talk a little, but is it worth it to have fewer worries about your health? Absolutely! It is not uncommon for many salon goers these days to show up with their own personal equipment.

4. Do not permit the use of any reusable instruments that are not sterilized.

Getting scrubbed with a brush that is used on other customers is a bad idea. Do not be shy to speak up and make sure that all equipment has been properly sterilized. A nice way of avoiding this awkward moment is to actually be up front and direct with your question before having a service.

5. Seek care quickly!

If you do pick up what appears to be a wart, nail fungus, or another skin infection, do not delay seeking dermatological care. The earlier you start treatment, the easier it is to fully resolve. There are many treatment options available and your dermatologist can advise which one will work best. Holding off treatment can result in the spread of the infection

Dr. Kally Papantoniou is a Cosmetic Dermatologist, Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology. She specializes in Injectables, Lasers, Body Contouring, Surgical and Medical Dermatology.

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