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How safe is your nail salon? We put Arkansas salons to the test

A day at the nail salon, it's supposed to be relaxing and rejuvenating but for some, it can end up downright repulsive and even dangerous.

After digging through hundreds of claims, Channel 7 News found at least 11 serious cases of infections reported to the health department over the last two years. We also found hundreds of claims and confirmed violations of dirty salon conditions and re-used tools.

In South Arkansas, a woman reported after a pedicure her toes became "swollen, red, puss-y and extremely irritated." She was rushed to the emergency room with a confirmed case of staph infection.

In Central Arkansas one person's doctor called her infection the worst case of fungus he's ever seen.

A woman in North East Arkansas reported she had to have painful surgery for an infection, after she claims her foot was cut by an unsanitized tool from a salon she says she used for years. "When I read the rules and guidelines on your site, I didn't realize just how many violations were being practiced at this salon," she wrote to the health department.

While any one of these cases is enough to make your toes curl, the Chief of Cosmetology for the Arkansas Health Department Kelli Kersi says she thinks there's a general lack of knowledge amongst salon patrons of how salons should be operating.

"I think there probably is, yeah and I think the best way to protect yourself is to educate yourself," Kersi said.

It is information the health department says they wish everyone knew.

"We can't be there all the time, so if you know what you're supposed to be looking for, that's the best way to protect yourself," Kersi said.

Nail salons are never supposed to reuse nail files or pumice stones, which are those gritty blocks used to remove dead skin.

"That is the main violation we have," Kersi said.

The nail file or pumice stones being used on you should be brand new and then thrown away.

"They have a hard time throwing it away. It's throwing money away they feel, but still, you can't get around that," Kersi said.

After each pedicure, the footbath must be drained, cleaned and rinsed, then filled again with disinfectant, soaking for the manufacturer's suggested time. Kersi says just wiping the tub out would not be good enough.

But if you're not willing to be the salon vigilante, an inspector has already done it for you.

All 5,000 salons in the state are inspected once a year. If there's a complaint, they'll visit right away. The health department says they get a couple a week.

Inspectors use a form. A check mark means the salon didn't live up to standards. Like a salon we found which was found to be reusing cotton, files, buffers, flip flops and toe separators.

New this year, you'll be able to see the salon's latest inspection hanging right on the wall. Any violations the salon had might be a better read than your tabloid magazines.

"The salon owner is definitely not going to want an inspection sheet hanging up there that has violations on it," Kersi said.

Jason Duong and Lany Nguyen of Chic Nails in Little Rock are almost certain they'll have a perfectly polished inspection. They shut their salon down for two weeks by their own free will to remodel everything with sanitation their top priority.

"I think customers appreciate it. It's worth the money they spend in here," said Nguyen.

Every client sitting in their new pedicure chairs will sink their feet into an individually lined tub.

"And then we throw it away. We still clean out the bowl," said Duong.

Customers going to Chic Nails will get a brand new pack containing a file, buffer and pumice stone each time. They say investing in cleanliness comes at a price, but it's not a price all salons are willing to pay.

We visited three salons to see for ourselves. Inside of one salon, we found the worker washing the pumice stone instead of throwing it away. In another salon, we found the salon re-using nail files. At another salon, which was cited last year for reusing tools, we found the worker cleaning a tool in dirty foot water and putting it back into the box.

The next time you're in a salon, before you close your eyes and relax, you might want to open them for a second and let your toes do the walking if something's not quite right.

You can report violations on the health department website. There's no clear form for doing so, but just email cosmo@arkansas.gov. At that email, you can also file a Freedom of Information Act request for violations or complaints on a specific salon.

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