On the Border of Clean

Though New Yorkers are known for kicking up quite a bit of dust on the streets of the city, the laws that govern New York beauty salons and spas set the standards for proper sanitation and safety.  Many can enjoy the plethora of beauty specialties that the city has to offer without the fear or anxiety of the possible health risks involved with an unsanitary or dangerous facility. Other states, like Connecticut, should implement some of these standards to better protect the health of the public who visit beauty salons, day spas and other personal grooming facilities or retail locations. 

Sadly, without knowing the signs of an unclean facility, we can have a false sense of security while enjoying several of the relaxing and pampering treatments at a beauty salon or spa.  It may already be too late when one’s toes are submerged and dancing in a jetting blue bath at the spa or enjoying the amazing sensation of a scalp massage during the shampoo at the beauty salon, or receiving a free makeover at the beauty counter of our favorite department store.  The last thing one usually thinks about is contracting a case of pink eye, an oozing bacterial infection or a yellow/ blue flaking fungal infection of the toenail.  

It is often difficult to know if a technician in a beauty salon or spa is improperly performing treatments and thereby creating situations that could endanger your health by causing an adverse reaction.  Becoming familiar with the conditions that exist in unsanitary establishments can lead to better consumer awareness of what is responsible for that unfortunate case of an infection or other adverse reaction to treatments being offered. Consumer awareness of these situations should be encouraged and explained in such a way as to disseminate this knowledge to everyone who intends on frequenting an establishment which offers the services of which I now write. Every person should know the signs of an unsanitary or dangerous beauty salon, spa, or retail environment in order to protect one’s health.

The New York Department of State (DOS) licensing division warns New Yorkers, “…beauty treatments like facials, body wraps, waxing, and nail treatments, involve actions that can be dangerous and hazardous to one’s health if not performed by properly trained and licensed personnel.  Bacterial infections, transmission of disease, adverse reactions to substances and other physical injuries are the result of improperly performed treatments.”  The NY DOS offers advice that can be very useful in making a decision as to whether or not one is frequenting a sanitary facility. 

Criteria for consideration are as follows:

1. A business should be legally licensed to operate. A business license conspicuously displayed at the entrance containing a photograph of the licensed individual(s) is a necessary sign of legitimacy.  

2.  All menu items and service options should be listed and displayed in the entrance area with an accompanying price list – because surprises at the cash register are awkward and unfair. 

3. Certain requirements which should not be taken for granted that seem like “no-brainers” (but unfortunately have to be spelled out) are: hot and cold running water, sufficient space, adequate lighting, and basic infection control procedures like consistent hand washing to mitigate cross-contamination of implements, working surfaces and people.  

In addition to the foregoing considerations, there are three basic ways to look at every item you touch in a beauty salon, spa or retail center: 

 Those items that come in contact with people: The door knob to the facility, the counter tops, chairs, treatment tables or beds, non-disposable metal implements like scissors, clippers, and tweezers, combs, brushes, capes, bowls, basins, foot-baths, showers, restroom facilities and even the air available to breathe. 

To prevent the spread of head lice, for example, all tables and beds must be properly sanitized between every Client without fail.  All tools used to “abrade or clip superficial skin should be immersed in an EPA approved disinfectant for at least 10 minutes and disinfected after each use.”

This means that you should pass on having your cuticles cut during your manicure or pedicure unless the cutting tools have been soaking in cleaning solution. Every person should insist that implements like clippers, tweezers, cuticle cutters and other metal tools come in contact with your skin only after previously being immersed in a sanitizing solution.  If not, tools can and will pass on bacteria or blood-born pathogens to your skin and body.  

Items that should be used only one time on a client and then discarded i.e. single-use or disposable items: Porous nail files, wooden waxing sticks, paraffin warm wax hand or foot treatments, wooden cuticle pushers, cotton swabs, mascara wands, lip-gloss applicators, wedge sponges for make-up, block buffers, cotton pads, gauze, tissues, paper towel, latex or vinyl gloves, paper table covering and hot or dry towels should all be used once and thereafter discarded.   These items cannot be immersed in EPA disinfectant between uses and must be disposed of in closed trash cans/containers or properly laundered in a way similar to hospital sheets. 

Double-dipping — the practice of using the same stick to dispense wax on one client or many clients — during a waxing service is also a huge no-no, along with the use of items like non-disposable sponges or nail files.  Do not feel embarrassed or rude for stopping a service short or canceling it altogether, if you see these unsanitary practices; because we will never know if implements taken out from drawers or UV light boxes are adequately cleansed and disinfected, you should insist on seeing it.  

In addition, beware of the cosmetic stores and beauty counters that offer testers for the public to try.  There should be no dispensing of fluids, creams, powders (pressed or loose) dispensed without the use of shakers, spatulas, dispenser pumps, or sprays.  If you see employees or patrons dipping fingers into jars or using lipstick, mascara, lip gloss, eyeliner, concealers or pencils on each other or others, do not use them on your skin.  Ask for a new sample or tester out of a freshly opened container or tube, if you must try before you buy.

Items that the consumer should never see as “in stock” items or as that which is to be used on one’s skin or body: Pumice stones, communal paraffin warmers, credo-blades, chamois buffers, styptic pencils, bar soap, non-disposable powder puffs, sponges, or neck dusters.  Seeing any of these items is your cue to walk away.  No matter how convenient, sweet smelling or clean a facility may appear to be, some signs should never be ignored.

If you or someone you know has an adverse reaction to a product, procedure, or facility, it is important to have access to the Material Safety Data Sheets for extreme or allergic reactions.  Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are essential when medical attention is sought for an extreme reaction. These are provided by the manufacturer of products and should accompany the products in every shipment. Without knowing the exact ingredients and/or properties of certain products in use at a beauty salon, spa or retail center, it is harder for the experts to treat your reaction and protect you health.

The State of Connecticut, in the questionable exercise of its legislative discretion in this limited regard, has allowed unlicensed personnel to perform facials, hair removal (waxing, tweezing and threading) eye-brow arching, shampooing treatments, the manicuring of fingernails or, for cosmetic purposes only, trimming, filing and painting of healthy toenails.  In light of this, it is very important that consumers know which conditions are safe and those which pose a threat to the health and wellness of all visiting patrons engaging the services of any such business establishment.  

By simply recognizing which items in a salon, spa or retail center are to be exposed to the skin of many people or used one time and thrown out, the educated consumer can better enjoy a multitude of pampering services and aesthetic treatment modalities.  Be forewarned, if you think your beauty salon, spa or retail experience is only borderline clean, do not think twice about demanding proper sanitation standards like those found in New York or consider choosing another facility altogether.  It is good practice to contact your local Department of Public Health if you see any unsanitary conditions in your local beauty salon, spa or retail center. A good motto to recall when selecting your next spa treatment, assuming the selected spa is deserving of earning your hard earned consumer dollars, one should declare:  “Only places that are clean deserve your green”.  

By keeping in mind these simple common sense tips for recognizing sanitary and hygienic practices for aesthetic service establishments, one can easily avoid unnecessary occurrences of sickness and adverse reactions to procedures, services and products of all kinds which one frequently encounters in a visit to one’s favorite spa. Demand the best products and services available and the vendor will have to comply or the standards set by the better spas will serve to limit the market share of sub-standard facilities. Pending the enactment of more stringent hygiene practices and professional standards to be passed by the State of Connecticut, General Assembly, it would be wise to voluntarily follow the lead as set forth by the State of New York, DOS and its published standards. Doing so will most assuredly enhance one’s experience with spa treatments of all kinds.