As a doc who washed my hands 100 times a day and kept my nails short, I rarely indulged in manicures until I came here to the Philippines. Here, for 50 cents, you can have your nails done, and for another 50 cents, your feet done. And our help do each other’s nails and hair all the time (which is why our overturn in maids and secretaries to marriage is an ongoing problem).
But August is a slow time for news. Why else would the most distinguished newspaper in the USA devote not one but two stories on the dangers of the evil manicure? LINK1 LINK2

In summary, those smelly solvents that they use to remove nailpolish, to soften cuticles and to harden your nails are dangerous in large amounts. But unless you have your nails done daily, it shouldn’t bother you. The real danger is to the manicurists, who are often Asian immigrants who work in unventillated shops.

Like other solvents in other industries (dry cleaning, garages,) these chemicals can explode, cause fires, cause allergy rashes, and cause health problems. But unlike larger plants who have been the focus of the EPA, most of the nail salons are small independent shops.

So the EPA is doing a push to encourage proper ventillation to limit exposure.

Both articles are about the danger of chemicals to the manicurist, but there are other dangers, this one to the client, in manicures and especially pedicures.

The most obvious one is infection, anything from “blood poisoning” (strep infection causing redness and even a red streak going up your arm) to a pus pocket inside the finger or under the cuticle. Indeed, the reason for those nasty chemicals is that they kill these germs quite nicely.

One of the weirder nail infections was first notice after latex nails came into vogue. A weaker version of the pseudomonas germ started growing under the nails, and we docs saw not painful bright green areas under the top of the fingernails.

But the real danger is if you are diabetic or have a weak immune system, these infections can be serious, and are even more serious after pedicures. Diabetics often have thick brittle nails from chronic fungus growing under the nails, and even a small cut on the foot can lead to a major infection or amputation of the foot.

Luckily there are newer medicines to treat the fungus infections, but the medicines are very very expensive, and some interfere with other medicines diabetics take, so we mainly use them in young healthy people who usually don’t need them.The main time I prescribed these was for our forestry firefighters (I almost wrote “firemen” but quite a few were healthy young gals ). They would be out fighting on the line for weeks at a time, and come back with the toe nails from hell, which we would treat in the winter.

Usually we would treat “pulse therapy” meaning one week a month for three months, because of the price . It never worked very well, probably because most were too busy to refill and take the medicine correctly. So another alternative was to simply remove their toenails and treat the base so the nail wouldn’t grow back.

But for the elderly, the treatment is frequent visits to a nurse or podiatrist who can keep the nails trimmed and thinned to prevent problems, and to have them fitted with a pair of well fitting leather shoes. The shoes might cost $100 plus podiatrist, and trimming the nails might cost $40 to $100 every two to three months, but it was a lot cheaper than placing grandmom in a nursing home because she lost her foot from an infection.
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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

She writes medical essays to HeyDoc Xanga Blog 

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