Other Investigations

Is Your Nail Salon Safe?


Sunday January 21, 2007

Women love the look. Bright red nail polish is sophisticated and sexy. Hot pink is chic. A French manicure looks professional and clean.

The demand for beautiful nails has created a $6.43 billion nationwide industry, with nail salons dotting strip malls across South Florida and the country.

But the pursuit of beautiful nails can be risky.

Consumers have suffered infections, allergic reactions, loss of nails and even, in rare cases, hepatitis after receiving manicures and pedicures from nail salons that don’t maintain health and safety standards.

State inspectors issued 435 citations between June 2005 and July 2006 to South Florida cosmetology shops, which include nail and beauty salons, a Sun-Sentinel computer analysis found.

The records, the latest available, show at least 163 of those citations were issued to nail salons. During the prior fiscal year, 182 nail salon citations were issued, compared with 99 in 2003-04.

State officials could not say whether the increase in citations over the past two fiscal years reflects growing problems with nail salon operations, better enforcement of state laws or an increase in the number of shops.

The Sun-Sentinel analyzed inspection data collected by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation for the years 2003-06.

The analysis found citations were issued to small one-stop operations as well as salons run by well-known franchises.

Inspectors cited dozens of nail salons for ignoring sanitation rules, failing to use disinfectant to sterilize tools, storing dirty instruments with clean ones and, in some cases, allowing unlicensed employees to work for months.

Nancy King, a consumer advocate and contributor to Nail Pro Magazine, said there’s a need for better regulation and enforcement of health and safety laws, and more training for salon technicians.

“What’s happening in Florida is the tip of the iceberg,” King said, when told of the Sun-Sentinel’s findings. “Students are not tested in how to disinfect their tools. And many students are not
even aware of health problems such as not treating someone who is diabetic because they have a high risk of infection
and their cuts won’t heal.”

In Florida, state field inspectors conduct undercover operations to identify unlicensed workers and repeat offenders, said Mark Reddinger, who oversees licensing activities for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

But the state has only 16 inspectors to scrutinize 19,617 licensed cosmetology shops and 37,420 nail specialists, along with barbershops and veterinary facilities. Five inspectors are responsible
for 6,422 cosmetology shops and thousands of nail specialists in South

State officials said they inspect shops every year, but that would require each inspector to conduct almost five inspections a day.
When asked how inspectors could conduct that many checks a day, Reddinger acknowledged “it is impossible to reach a 100 percent inspection completion” each year.

But Reddinger added that the state makes it a priority to check any shop that hasn’t received an inspection in the previous 12 months
within the next year.

Doug Schoon, co-chairman of the Arizona-based Nail Manufacturers Council of the Professional Beauty Association, said inspections are not as frequent as they should be in most states.

“In general across the country, establishments are being inspected about once every five to six years,” said Schoon, whose association represents professional nail product manufacturers. “And in some states inspectors don’t even know what they are looking for because most states don’t train them [inspectors] properly.”

State records show consumers have filed 4,004 complaints in Broward,
Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties since 2003 alleging injuries, infections and unlicensed activities at nail salons and other cosmetology establishments.

Records include consumer allegations that manicurists didn’t sterilize tools, and that some consumers contracted fungal or bacterial infections after pedicures.

The state board of cosmetology has issued 24 suspensions in South Florida since 2003 and collected about $240,000 in fines. State records don’t indicate how many of those shops were nail salons or offered nail services.

Citations can be issued for a single violation or multiple infractions. Fines assessed ranged from $50 for a minor offense — not displaying the last inspection report, for instance — to $500 for a serious offense, such as not having a state license or hiring untrained workers.

When a citation is challenged, the record is not public until
the state’s cosmetology board rules on the case. State officials said about 25 percent of citations are disputed and
not public record.

Industry officials and state regulators said most nail salons are clean and follow state regulations.

“There are more germs in your kitchen and countertops than there are
in nail salons,” said Trisha Trackman, a consultant for the Chicago-based International Nail Technician Association, which represents salon professionals.

But consumer advocates said the Sun-Sentinel analysis spotlights a growing problem in an industry where immigrants with minimal English skills can obtain jobs easily.

No federal agency tracks nail-salon problems. But industry experts and
consumer advocates said cosmetology training programs are outdated in most states and they estimate hundreds of unlicensed employees work in California, Texas and Florida.

In Florida, a nail specialist must complete 240 hours of training to obtain
a license. No test is required. By comparison, a nail specialist in California must complete about 600 hours of training and pass a test.

“Cosmetology boards [and state legislators] across the country are letting consumers down by passing bogus regulations and not enforcing sanitation and health inspection codes,” Schoon said.

Schoon and King contributed to efforts in California to create guidelines
for pedicure safety after a 2000 outbreak tied a single nail salon in Watsonville, Calif., to infections in 110 people.

They said they hope the guidelines —which include disinfecting foot spas after each client and at the end of the day, and heavier fines for salons that fail to follow state rules — become a model for other states.

California has 18 inspectors and 38,000 licensed shops. The Board of Barbering and Cosmetology’s annual budget is $15 million. Florida’s 2005 budget for its inspection program was $637,000 and the state has not adopted the California guidelines.

Lara Lee Courts, 44, a Palm Beach Gardens homemaker, filed a complaint in 2004 alleging a nail specialist cut her while doing a manicure at U.S. Nails in North Palm Beach. Courts said she was concerned because the manicurist did not clean the tools before she used them with the next client.

“I felt uneasy about it,” Courts said.

After Courts filed the complaint, a state inspector found sanitation violations and issued a citation.

State records show U.S. Nails has been cited five times since 2001 for licensing and sanitation violations. Last August, the Florida Board of Cosmetology suspended the salon’s license for six months and ordered owner Myn Tran to pay a $1,040 fine.

Tran, 45, who owns another salon that has also been cited for repeat offenses, denied Courts’ allegations. In an interview, he dismissed the violations as minor.

“Sometimes they [manicurists] are forgetful when they are busy,” Tran
said, adding that he has paid the fines and made improvements to his shop so he can continue to operate.

In 2003, a Broward County jury found The Breakers, a five-star Palm
Beach County hotel, negligent and awarded a South Carolina retired
nurse $847,267 in damages.

Julie Lofink claimed she developed osteomyelitis, a bone infection, after getting a manicure at the hotel’s spa, court records show. She lost movement in her thumb.

Ann Margo Peart, a Breakers spokeswoman, said the hotel’s attorneys appealed the verdict and later reached an out-of-court settlement, but that the terms are confidential.

Steven Teebagy, an attorney who in 2004 won a case against JC Penney in Boynton Beach Mall on behalf of a woman who said she got an infection after she got a manicure, said nail-salon owners should not merely meet state requirements, but go beyond them to ensure customer safety.

“These [nail specialists] are people who are not physicians, but they are moving human tissue around and in many cases with unsanitary tools,” Teebagy said.

Susan M. Ramirez, 46, a baker for Broward County Public Schools, was a regular customer at Nail Trix at the Sawgrass Mills Mall until a cut she received with a pumice stone became infected,
she said.

Ramirez filed a complaint in 2004 alleging the manicurist did not clean a wash basin and properly store the bloody pumice stone with other instruments after completing the pedicure.

Shortly after Ramirez filed the complaint, a state inspector cited the salon, for numerous violations.

Nail Trix has been cited at least five times between 2001 and 2004 for violations including failing to use disinfectant and licensing violations, records show.

During a recent visit to Nail Trix, a reporter asked to see a copy of the last inspection report, which was not posted in plain view as required by law.

Phong Nguyen, the salon owner, said he wasn’t aware the inspection form needed to be posted. Nguyen, who lives in Maryland, said his employees have corrected deficiencies.

Ramirez said she’s careful now.

“I don’t get as many manicures,” Ramirez said. “But I make sure the equipment is sanitized.”

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel published this article on Jan. 21, 2007. This story, and the subsequent articles that followed after state legislation was proposed, were recipients of the 2008 National Association of Hispanic Journalists award for investigative reporting. Mc Nelly Torres worked at the Sun-Sentinel for four years where she wrote about consumer issues among other topics.

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