Special Report: Cutting Corners: Danger at the nail salon
Judy Jacobson endured intense pain and damage to her thumb (at left, seen after the treatment) as a result of what seemed like a minor mishap at the time.
Published Thursday, March 22, 2012 6:24PM EDT
MONTREAL - Most customers leave nail salons with shiny, bright-coloured nails. And yet occasionally, such a visit can lead to a world of pain and lingering long-term injury.
The hundreds of such salons throughout the province are not obliged to form a part of any professional association or subject to any sort of rigorous health inspections. As a result, some have learned the experience can lead to serious physical damage.
Judy Jacobson's visit to a nail salon in Laval one year ago is not one that she'll ever stop regretting.
Her manicure appeared to be progressing as usual until the nail artist left took out a tiny apparatus to smooth down the skin near the nail.
"He takes this little machine, this little sander, to even it out and he hit the side of my skin," said Jacobson.
She immediately felt a sharp jolt.
"I felt the electric current go through and I said to him, "Ouch you hurt me!' I felt it hit!", said Jacobson.
The maneuver not only shocked her, but it left her trying to deal with the complex problem which still forces her to seek treatment several times a week at the CLSC.
The injury manifested itself in sporadic shocks in her body.
"I was getting electrical shocks going up my arm into my chest down my legs." She said that the visit to the salon turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. "I wanted a little change and some change I did!"
Several months, visits to doctors and bottles of painkillers later, the pain was still so unbearable, Jacobson underwent exploratory surgery And that's when a doctor finally located the cause of her discomfort.
"He said that I have calcium sitting on my nerve from nerve damage and that he didn't know how I tolerated the pain for so long," said Jacobson.
Samantha Bolsterli is also nursing a sore thumb, which was injured when a manicurist at a Chateauguay nail salon started clipping at her finger to remove an acrylic nail.
"It looked like it was little pliers and he was picking off," said Bolsteri. "He cut my finger and it resulted in it bleeding and I fainted!"
The causes of damaged digits and other mishaps at the manicurist could be related to unsterilized equipment or other unmonitored issues.
Dr. Charles Faucher said that he and other podiatrists have noticed an increase in bacterial and fungal infections caused by dirty salons.
"Many patients come in here and say, 'I went to this place and the finger wasn't red before, it didn't hurt.' There's now pus coming out," said Faucher, a podiatrist
But it's not only fungus that clients have to worry about. There are also blood-borne infections that are much more serious, such as hepatitis and HIV that can be transmitted through an open cut. That's why Faucher says clients should never have a pedicure if they have a cut.
CTV Montreal conducted an undercover survey of several nail salons to see if they would work on a finger that had already suffered a discern able cut.
None refused to work on the damaged finger.
That practice goes against the teachings of the craft and good sense as well.
"I always tell my students, always act as if my client in front of you has something fatal," said aesthetician trainer Stephanie Andrade of College Inter-Dec. "As if he had a serious disease, you treat her with the most protection that you can for yourself and for your next client."
Andrade says that the telltale sign of a quality salon is impeccable cleanliness, staffed by technicians sporting new gloves for each client, while using heat-sterilized equipment, cleaned by an autoclave device.
"When you walk into a salon you're supposed to see and smell cleanliness," said Andrade.
Faucher, whose South Shore clinic is equipped with heat-sterilized tools, said that some others cannot afford the expensive equipment.
"When you try to cut out on price, you have to cut on security," said Faucher. "A lot of consumers are at risk for all sorts of things."
At least two deaths have been attributed to dirty nail salons in the United States.
And one nail technician has made it her crusade to fight for higher standards.
"Most are unaware that there's no licensing required. Most are unaware that people are signing up for kijiji from someone who's unqualified to train," said Victoria Lys-Hunter.
Faucher recommends that anybody who does not have complete faith in a salon should take a close look and ask a lot of questions and if one is still uncertain, "Walk away, don't take a chance," he said.
As for Jacobson, one year later her thumb still hasn't recovered.
Her doctor has told her she's lucky she didn't have to have it amputated.
It's a huge price to pay for a quickie manicure that's caused her more time, and pain than she could ever have imagined.
"Every day I ask: why? Why did this happen? " said Jacobson. "Be so so careful because one wrong move and your whole life is going to change."
Ontario, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island are some of the provinces which regulate nail salons, however Quebec leaves it to municipalities, which are frequently understaffed to do the job in any meaningful manner.