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A Surgeon’s Manicure Nightmare

Tea Nguyen, DPM shares a personal story & says people deserve to have a safe and comfortable experience at a nail salon.

It was a perfect day for self care.

I blocked my afternoon schedule to do something restorative for myself and decided on getting a manicure. I have this problem with peeling polish since I wash my hands regularly as a surgeon so opted for something longer lasting like a dip manicure. I was really excited but also nervous. I’ve had my nails painted many times before so I knew the routine – trim, file, paint, and dry. It sounded straightforward enough which would be a relaxing time for me, or so I thought.

I went to a salon with a decent reputation. I figured before I would refer my patients to a local nail salon, I ought to experience it myself.

Being a daughter of a nail salon owner and then becoming a podiatrist, I had an awareness of the pros and cons of nail salons. On the pro side, nail technicians serve as the extra pair of eyes for their clients. They would be the ones recommending medical attention, assuming they have the proper training that is required by their state cosmetology board. Most of the time, it’s a positive experience to get nails trimmed and painted. I regularly recommend routine nail care as part of self care. On the con side, I have had many patients see me nearly immediately after a bad experience that led to an infected ingrown toenail. Worse case scenario is an infection leading to a leg amputation.

Here’s my personal experience. I walked into a local nail salon requesting a nail dip and was quickly escorted to a manicure table. I waited a few minutes until a technician came then I asked if she could also do a french tip design with the dip. Her English was limited, and she said no she couldn’t not do that. Then she waived to another tech and said to follow her instead.

 

“Being a daughter of a nail salon owner and then becoming a podiatrist, I had an awareness of the pros and cons of nail salons.”

 

I sat at the second table, eager to get on with a relaxing experience. She grabbed my hands and started to glue on the nail extension. I was impressed at how quickly she was doing it. I told her I needed my nails to be very short and it still wasn’t short enough even though I showed her the exact length I wanted. At mid sentence she said, “oh I forgot to call my kid hold on ok?” She grabs her cell phone out of her white jacket, calls her kid, tells them something and then returns her attention back to my hands.

Next, she pulls out what appears to be a used black nail file with white debris on it and I held my breath. I said to myself, just try to enjoy the experience, stop being overly critical. You are healthy, it’s likely common practice and just relax. She proceeded to file the sides of the nail and she’s doing so very quickly. I had pulled my hand back a few times to indicate she was doing too much, then she would pull my hand, slow for a swipe then hurried on again. She eventually broke skin with the used nail file so I told her she was hurting me. She said “oh sorry” and proceeded with the next finger and finally by the third one I was in tears. I was quietly crying through my mask which was saturated at this point. I couldn’t reach for a tissue and I didn’t want to make a scene.

She finally saw blood from the cut. She quickly applied nail glue to make it stop, which stung and then told me to wash my hands in the bathroom. She asked if I was ok and all I could say was “you hurt me.”

 

She finally saw blood from the cut. She quickly applied nail glue to make it stop, which stung and then told me to wash my hands in the bathroom. She asked if I was ok and all I could say was 'you hurt me.' Click To Tweet

 

I went to the bathroom, took off my mask and sobbed. I could not believe what I just experienced. I came here to relax, not be traumatized. I took some deep breaths and walked out to inform the owner of the incident. My nails were not completed and I certainly did not want to leave with unfinished work, so the owner took over and apologized. I thought I was done crying, but I continued to weep until she was finished. I didn’t request anything special, just whatever color was on would do so I could leave. When I was able to breathe and speak, I told the owner she needed to train the staff better. The owner said that she would talk to her and not charge me for the service and I said I’m happy to pay for the time but she politely declined payment. She also offered to apply nail glue on the cut that was still bleeding and I told her no.

This nail salon was incredibly busy and it shocks me that they are. The nail technician I had was nothing short of negligent, she was an older woman with enough experience to be fast. But I sat in conflict wondering what just happened and what do I do now? The entire staff were Vietnamese so I have compassion for people who remind me of my mother, immigrants who came here for the opportunity to work and make a living. I get that.

But what I could not forgive was the complete disregard for a proper manicure. No one should ever experience getting cut with a dull used nail file. A nick from a nail nipper I would understand since it’s a sharp object but to be cut several times with what felt like a rug burn from a non sterile object is negligent. My fingers throbbed the rest of the evening and I kept monitoring for infections. Every time I wash my hands and the open cuts burn from doing so, I’m reminded of this trauma. Fortunately, the cuts healed after 3 days and no infection came about.

I have worked with many amazing nail technicians who do wonderful jobs keeping their clients safe. Unfortunately I did not have this experience myself with this one particular technician and it’s incredibly disheartening to see what others may have gone through.

People deserve to have a safe and comfortable experience at a nail salon. It has been a great partnership to work with trusted nail technicians so that their clients have direct access to a doctor for medical management.

 

People deserve to have a safe and comfortable experience at a nail salon. It has been a great partnership to work with trusted nail technicians so that their clients have direct access to a doctor for medical management. Click To Tweet

 

Here are some recommendations in screening whether or not the nail salon would be a good fit for you:

 

  1. Ask your podiatrist or doctors who they would recommend, someone who has had experiences themselves are helpful. Some podiatrists like myself offer medical pedicures for foot care, so if you have diabetes, circulation disorders or severe nail fungus, you would be better served with someone trained for more complex cases.
  2. Ask your friends where they go. Online reviews only tell part of the story, but you can get more from word of mouth, things that people don’t disclose publicly but may tell you privately.
  3. Scan the nail salon, do they look too busy to pay attention to their clients? Are they rushing between clients? Are their instruments coming out of a sterile pack or does it look used? You can always ask how they sterilize their instruments.
  4. When you find a good nail technician, keep them, treat them well, pay them well.

 

My hands allow me to perform surgery and help people get back on their feet, so I do not skimp on paying more for high quality care. One bad experience doesn’t mean I’ll never have a manicure or pedicure again, it just means I have to be more diligent in finding the right one. I hope my nightmare doesn’t become yours. It’s ok to ask questions. You have the right to know and to feel safe.

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