People Centre’d on Diabetes: Put foot down against pedicure infections

December 16, 2013 

Can you ever treat yourself to a pedicure if you have diabetes?

Beautifying services, such as pedicures, have become a large industry. Women often go together to relax and bond, but with all the warnings about taking care of your feet if you have diabetes, are pedicures safe if you are one of the 25.8 million people in the U.S. living with diabetes? It depends.

Your diabetes health care provider or your podiatrist are the best people to ask about your specific situation. However, if you have neuropathy, you have the highest risk of complications. The American Diabetes Association defines peripheral neuropathy as tingling, pain, numbness or weakness in feet and hands. Numbness is key in this. It stands to reason that if you have poor feeling in your feet, the hot baths at a pedicure salon may be dangerous — they could cause burns. Also, if you have poor feeling, you may miss a nail technician’s cut and may not notice an infection that could form down the line.

So if you have neuropathy, you may be safer skipping the hot foot baths, paraffin baths and cutting of nails. The same applies if you have poor circulation in your feet. However, applying natural polish or natural products such as nail lacquers free of dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene is safe. You can check online for brands that offer products made without these chemicals.

If you are not at high risk because of neuropathy or poor circulation, the Environmental Protection Agency still has some suggestions for you. According to the EPA, a common cause of pedicure infections is a bug called mycobacterium fortuitum, which likes warm water and is particularly hard to get rid of. Infection can enter the body through open wounds, which may result in cuts from shaving, waxing, trimming of toenails, pushing back the cuticle or shaving calluses. The EPA recommendations include:

• Getting to know your local spa. Ask the technicians how often their foot spas are maintained and which cleaning products they use. If the salon technicians can’t answer these questions, the spa may not regularly clean its foot baths. The salon should be using an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant, and foot baths and instruments should be properly disinfected between each customer.

• Politely asking the nail technician to not push back the cuticle. Damage, and thus infection, to the skin can occur when a technician pushes back the cuticle. Many salons offer organic and all-natural products with lower risks of allergic reactions. If a cut forms, or an allergic reaction stems from the creams or soaps used at that salon, one of your health care professionals should be alerted right away. Most such infections are easily treated with either topical or oral antibiotics, but leaving them go without proper care can cause trouble when you have diabetes; leaving a minor infection untreated can threaten limb and even life.

So whether or not you have diabetes, don’t be bashful about asking the nail salon before the treatment in a polite manner about cleaning, product types, etc., and then relax, sit back and unwind.

Dr. Christina L. Rowe is a doctor of podiatry practicing in State College and can be reached at 231-1566.

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