Pedicures carry risk of infection


The sign says no cellphones allowed.

I almost pedal backward, but figure an hour won’t kill me.

So I grudgingly put both BlackBerries on vibrate, roll up my pant legs and take off my socks.

Once my feet hit the warm water, it’s all worth it.

It’s my first winter in Ottawa.

Compared to the tropics of Windsor (my previous home town), my skin is paying for it dearly.

So I’ve decided to treat myself to a pedicure. And I’m not the only one.

With new salons popping up across the city, more women and men are pampering themselves at places offering multiple services such as waxing, facials, and pedicures.

As my feet are massaged with something that smells like a candy cane, it hits me: How do you really know the water’s clean?

The thought of getting nailed with a bacterial infection has Hintonburg resident Jennifer Joyce wary about getting a pedicure at salons and spas.

“You want to go in there and feel like you’re in good hands, you’re safe, and you’re going to come out no worse than you went in,” Joyce says.

The reason for her reluctance? Cleanliness.

Joyce knows a thing or two about hygiene when it comes to clients — she’s a registered massage therapist at the Chateau Laurier.

The nail salon industry itself isn’t regulated, says Ottawa public health inspector Christian Lapensee.

Rather, it falls under the personal service establishments category, which includes tattooing, piercing, waxing, hair salons and massage therapy.

They’re all inspected by municipal health units and the provincial guidelines are provided by the ministry of health and long-term care.

In Ottawa, there are roughly 40 health inspectors that are monitoring about 1,000 personal service businesses at least once a year.

“What we’re looking for is infection, prevention and control guidelines that they have to follow in the sense of cleaning, disinfection, which items can be used, re-used, which are disposable, et cetera,” says Lapensee.

He estimates 300 places in the city offer pedicures.

Putting your feet in water can be like dipping them in a bubbly petri dish.

“You don’t want to be thinking about getting any bacteria, infections, any viruses,” says Marta Stratton, general manager at The Spa in Bells Corners.

“Fungus is a word that you don’t want to talk about when having a pedicure.”

Stratton says her business follows strict practices.

While some spas use disposable tools, her employees are required to buy stainless steel tools and they’re responsible for cleaning them after each use.

“We disinfect the pedicure stations, all of the pedicure implements with an industrial-use hospital-grade disinfectant,” she says, adding it’s done after every pedicure.

Soaking feet in a stainless steel basin is the best, Stratton says, because it’s simple and easy to clean.

Some salons use foot baths with bubble jets and jet streams attached to the chair, which are harder to maintain.

Lapensee says the “foot thrones” are usually on recirculation systems where the water goes through pipes.

“You’ve got to make sure that when you clean and disinfect the foot tub, you’re turning on the unit and letting it get through the entire machine so that way it has contact with all the surfaces of the pipes,” he says.

And when the water comes back out into the tub, it’s flowing through a screen.

“That screen itself, you have to ensure that it’s clean and disinfected as required,” he says.

And good hygiene isn’t just reserved for tools.

Whenever an esthetician touches a phone, remote control, money — basically anything other than you — Lapensee says they should wash their hands again.

Even if they’re wearing gloves, they should still wash up and then change the gloves before returning.

Joyce says while she knows some places are diligent, she still doesn’t get her feet done very often.

“I have had pedicures before and it’s not like I won’t ever go again,” she says.

“But it’s not something that I like doing just because of that fear, that subtle fear. I’d rather spend my money on a massage or something where I know I’ll be safer.”

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