South Florida Nail Salon Dangers

Picking out that perfect polish at the nail salon was a favorite ritual for Tilwanda Bivens. But now the Miami mom says her mani-pedi days are over because of a staph infection she believes she got from a Miami salon.

“I told my sister—I say the pain hurts so bad I feel like chopping off my arm,” Bivens told Team 6 Investigators.

Bivens says the manicurist cut her while doing her nails last fall. The nick healed, but Bivens says the pain persists.

“Sometimes I can’t even wash my back,” said Bivens.

Bivens sued the salon. By phone, the salon owner insisted Bivens "…didn’t get any cuts that day” and said “…we’ve been here 15 years and never had any problem.” Team 6 Investigators checked state records for the last five years and found no citations at the salon.

But Jason Chalik, Bivens’ attorney says state inspections --- conducted every two years -- aren't sufficient to catch health hazards. He says many salon owners are more concerned with fast customer turnover than careful attention to cleanliness.

"You’re being paid per job. You’re not being paid for that extra time to set up or to clean up,” said Chalik.

The state has reprimanded more than 1100 salons in Miami-Dade and Broward since 2010 for offenses ranging from unlicensed employees to dirty spa filters to not using hospital-grade disinfectants.

Jennifer Schnipper says she's still dealing with what happened to her during a pedicure in Boca Raton eight years ago.

“It’s numb. I don’t have any feeling,” said Schnipper pointing to a scar near her shin.
Schnipper says it all started with what looked like a pimple on her leg that developed shortly after a pedicure. Despite medication, the infection got worse.

“I was in excruciating pain,” said Schnipper, “…I could not bear weight on my right leg.”

She saw an infectious disease specialist.

“The second that she saw my leg she asked me how often do you get pedicures. And I thought what does that have to do with anything. And she said ’I guarantee this is a microbacterium infection from a pedicure spa bath’,” said Schnipper.

Emergency surgery left an open wound on her shin. Doctors had to do a skin graft, using tissue from her arm. She sued then salon owner, Thach Nguyen, who settled out of court, she says, for more than 350-thousand dollars.

“What my salon did not do is use the proper anti-germicidal solution,” said Schnipper. She also says she didn’t realize she shouldn’t shave right before a pedicure.

Health experts recommend waiting at least 24 hours after shaving or waxing to allow the tiny tears they cause to heal.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2000 blamed improperly cleaned foot spas for infections in more than 100 pedicure customers in California. The study also found that shaving the legs with a razor was “a risk factor.”

Still podiatrist Gary Wallach says the most critical issue is making sure salon tools are clean.

“If they don’t come from a sterilized package that’s a red flag,” said Wallach.

Wallach says so many patients were coming into his practice with infections from pedicures he opened a pedicure salon in his medical office, Coral Ridge Podiatry. He says consumers need to carefully watch how salon employees clean their stations.

“They are not being cognizant of the fact that they are doing surgical procedures, although we don’t think of it as surgery. Because the minute you cut that flesh, the moment you cut that flesh open, germs have the chance to get in, said Wallach.

The Team 6 Investigators visited a salon with zero citations and zero lawsuits to find out what they are doing right. At Something Perfect Nails in Miami Beach, the owner uses a 3-step cleaning process for all tools and schedules ten minutes between clients to ensure thorough cleaning of work stations. Schnipper believes all salon owners need to take cleanliness very seriously.

“It’s their job to keep consumers safe. And by taking short cuts they put everyone that enters the salon at risk,” said Schnipper.

Team 6 Investigators’ attempts to talk to salon owner Thach Nguyen were unsuccessful.

To check to see if your salon has been reprimanded by the state, Team 6 has created a searchable database for salons in Miami-Dade and Broward.

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