A Deadly Luxury

Kimberly Kay Jackson always looked forward to getting her pedicure once a month. As a paraplegic, she couldn't feel the swirling water of the whirlpool tub, but she liked having her toenails painted with bright pink polish. In July of the year 2005, the Fort Worth, Texas resident got a cut on her heel with a pumice stone during a pedicure and developed a wound that oozed and wouldn't heal. Repeated rounds of antibiotics did nothing to cure the wound and in February, she died of a heart attack, triggered by the infection. She was 46.

Kimberly's three teenaged children sued the responsible nail salon and its owner for damages. The lawsuit claims that the salon didn't follow state regulations for disinfection in regard to whirlpools and instruments.

Improper Salon Hygiene

The National Cosmetology Association, located in Chicago issued a statement that no reports had been received of any deaths stemming from salon visits, though they admitted that sanitary problems have been reported in a small percentage of around 250,000 licensed salons throughout the United States, with the most common health issue arising from improper salon hygiene being toenail fungus.

Very Little Action

In Texas alone, there are almost 26,400 licensed salons offering nail care services. The licensing department receives hundreds of complaints each year against these salons and their owners and runs investigations into those claims that appear to be legitimate. The investigations yield very little action with only about a tenth of the salons receiving penalties or orders to improve sanitation protocols.

In May of 2006, a Dallas salon owner was fined $4,000 for sanitation violations after four of its clients came down with bacterial infections. Tien Jim Nguyen, owner of salon, the Beverly Hills Nails University, was ordered, along with his employees to take a course in sanitation. Nguyen agreed to reimburse his afflicted customers for the services they received at his salon and covered the more than $1,200 in medical expenses his clients incurred.

These incidents are of particular concern in light of the fact that two years earlier, the Texas Cosmetology Commission had issued new regulations relating to whirlpool foot baths. The statewide regulations included washing basins with disinfectants at the end of each pedicure, flushing basins for 10 minutes at the end of each day, giving them an overnight soak in bleach every two weeks, and keeping a log of hygienic measures taken.

The former president of the now defunct Texas Cosmetology Association, Jennifer Davis, warns customers to be cautious, take a close look at the salon, and ascertain that instruments are new or sterilized. Says, Davis, a licensed cosmetologist in Texas for 38 years, “If it’s not clean and shiny like at the dentist’s office, don’t stay. Play it safe. I think people don’t realize how easily diseases spread.”