7 Diseases You Can Get at the Salon

Ah, a relaxing day at the salon, where you can luxuriate in beauty treatments and emerge with beautifully coiffed hair, radiant skin, and nails to die for. Most of the time, this is what you can expect when you pay a visit to a spa or salon. But you can also wind up going home with any number of unpleasant conditions, from burns to bacterial infections.

Hereís what you can pick up from the salonóplus tips for how to emerge from your pampering session feeling, and looking, like a million bucks.

1. Fungal Infections of the Nail

Nail tools can transmit nasty fungal infections. If you notice swelling of the skin surrounding the toenail or fingernail, pain in the area, or a thickening of the nail, seek medical attention.

What You Can Do: Ask the salon owner if all the nail grooming instruments are sterilized, and look to see if nail technicians use sterilizing solutions. Protect yourself further by keeping your fingernails short and cleaning the undersides often with soap and water. Longer nails unfortunately tend to trap more dirt and bacteria, which could potentially permit the spread of infection.

Also, donít allow the manicurist to cut your cuticles. "It's okay to have them gently pushed back, but cutting cuticles will only increase your risk for infection," says Katy Burris, MD, a dermatologist at Northwell Health in Manhasset, NY. "Think of your cuticles as the skin that protects the underlying nail matrix. If this barrier is disrupted, it leaves the door wide open for infections."

2. Head Lice

These annoying little pests cause extreme itching on your scalp as well as sores that can become infected if you scratch them a lot. And lest you think that you wonít get head lice because your hair is so clean, think again. Lice actually prefer clean hair!

Lice are passed around when someone who already is infected has head-to-head contact with someone who doesnít. The lice simply crawl from one head to the next. While a case of head lice is treatable with a shampoo you can apply at home, the best thing is to avoid them in the first place.

What You Can Do: Make sure your salon sterilizes combs and brushes between customers, or bring your own comb and brush.

3. Burns and Blisters

Skin treatments can result in blisters, swelling, and bruises on the face, or chemical burns on the legs (thanks to a chemical to treat leg veins). One woman received a burn on her upper lip after she had a laser hair removal treatment at a medical spa, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

What You Can Do: Make sure the cosmetician or aesthetician has received training (and, in some cases, is certified) to perform the procedure safely.

4. Contact Dermatitis

If a product that you are allergic to is applied at the salon, you can develop a rash such as contact dermatitis, says Angela Kyei, MD, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic and director of the Clinicís Multicultural Hair & Skin Center. "You can get dermatitis from chemicals that cause allergy or irritation," she explains. "Typical culprits include fragranced products, acrylics, and formaldehyde. If one of these is applied to your skin, it can cause dermatitis."

What You Can Do: Ask about the products being applied to your skin at the salon, so that if you develop a rash, you will be able to tell the dermatologist what was applied, Kyei says. "That can help pin down the potential cause of the dermatitis so that product can be avoided in the future."

5. Staph Infections

If you treat yourself to a pedicure, you are risking a staph infection, says Burris. These can be both unsightly and uncomfortable. "Foot spas [tubs filled with water used to soak the feet] can be a source of infection," she says. "When they are not cleaned properly, they are the perfect environment for the overgrowth of bacteria such as staph and strep."

What You Can Do: Be sure the salon technicians wash their hands and sanitize tubs before each client.

6. Nontuberculous Mycobacterial Infection

This skin and soft tissue infection can be spread through water and causes abscesses and pustules on the skin. The infection has been linked to a variety of cosmetic and spa procedures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): One woman developed the infection after she got a laser treatment on her face that resulted in pustules all over her face, neck and chest. She ended up being hospitalized and received antibiotic treatment, and experienced facial scarring that required a series of medical procedures to correct. Treatment consists of multiple antibiotics and possibly even surgery.

What You Can Do: Since less than stellar footbath cleaning may contribute to the development of these infections, the best way of reducing your chances of getting one is to either avoid getting pedicures at commercial salons, or to make sure to visit a scrupulously clean facility.

7. Hepatitis

Thereís a risk of hepatitis transmission through non-single use instruments like foot basins, razors, clippers, and scissors used at nail salons and barbershops, according to a report presented at a meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology.

What You Can Do: Itís crucial that tools be sterilized.

Practice common salon sense:

  • Donít visit the salon when you have any open wounds or damaged skin. "Our skin and nails serve as a barrier to the outside environment. If you have an opening in your skin, this will lead to an increased risk for developing an infection," Burris says.
  • Only visit reputable salons. Make sure they have up-to-date credentials for all employees.
  • Ask the salon owner about steps they take to keep their salon clean. "Ask if there have been reports in the past of people contracting an infection, and ask how they disinfect their tools," Kyei recommends.

If you've taken precautions, enjoy yourself! "These are meant to be an enjoyable and relaxing part of your day," Burris says. "They are meant to help you feel better about yourself and your appearance. Just be smart, take the proper precautions, and avoid behaviors that may increase your risk for infection."

Katy Burris, MD, reviewed this article.


Burris, Katy, MD. Email interview on February 4, 2016.

Kyei, Angela, MD. Email interview on February 4, 2016.

"Nail Hygiene." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last accessed February 3, 2016.

"Head Lice." American Academy of Dermatology. Last accessed February 3, 2016.

"Before Getting Cosmetic Treatment, Ask Questions." American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed February 3, 2016.

"Nontuberculous Mycobacterial Infection After Fractionated CO2 Laser Resurfacing." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2013 19,3.

Gonzalez-Santiago, TM and Drage, LA. "Nontuberculous Mycobacteria: Skin and Soft Tissue Infections." Dermatol Clin. 2015 33(3):563-77.

"Hepatitis Transmission Risk Needs to Be Studied in Nail Salons, Barbershops, Analysis Suggests." Science Daily. 15 November 2011.

Stout, Jason E., L. Beth Gadkowski, Shadia Rath, James A. Alspaugh, Melissa B. Miller, Gary M. Cox. "Pedicure-Associated Rapidly Growing Mycobacterial Infection: An Endemic Disease." Clinical Infectious Diseases 2011 53,8:787-792. doi: 10.1093/cid/cir539