NBC Connecticut Investigates has found that nail salons across the state have been the subject of numerous complaints by customers who say they were injured during their manicures and pedicures.
Katie McGowen is one of them. She was looking forward to a relaxing lunch-hour pedicure at a popular West Hartford nail salon before the routine beauty treatment took what she says is a painful turn. She said an intense burning sensation prompted her to pull her feet out of the foot bath leaving her with physical injuries.
“I had three to four big blisters and boils on the tops of my feet,” and the skin on the bottoms of her feet was “all cut up and bleeding,” she said.
Hours later, a doctor diagnosed her with chemical burns, she said. McGowen believes they were caused by chemical callous remover that was incorrectly applied by a nail technician at Silk Nails in the Bishops Corner neighborhood of West Hartford.
Inspection reports obtained by NBC Connecticut Investigates show some salons are repeatedly violating health and safety rules and many are not inspected at all.
McGowen’s family complained about her injury to the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District and they conducted a follow-up inspection.
Their report shows the salon did not have required “Material Safety Data Sheets” for chemicals and that their pedicure jets were cleaned once a week but needed to be cleaned once a night.
When we asked the salon owners about the report and McGowen’s injury, they said they do not recall the incident and typically refer customer complaints directly to their lawyer and insurance company.
Two years later, NBC Connecticut Investigates went to Silk Nails and recorded undercover video showing an employee quickly rinsing a foot bath between clients. We showed it to West Hartford-Bloomfield health director Steve Huleatt.
“The video certainly demonstrates that it would be inadequate cleaning,” Huleatt said.
Won Joo, the son of Silk Nails’ original owner and the salon’s new owner, reviewed the footage as well.
“They [sic] not supposed to do it that way,” Joo said.
Joo said the employee was retrained following our visit. The salon passed a follow-up inspection.
In other cases, inspection reports obtained by NBC Connecticut Investigates show some salons fail annual inspections year after year, often correcting violations in time to pass a re-inspection.
For example, inspectors failed a Bristol salon for numerous violations, including the same hygiene rule for foot spas, at every annual inspection since 2014.
After failing a Wallingford salon in January, an inspector wrote, “this is the third time,” that illegal razors called credo blades were found. They later passed this July.
State law requires health districts to inspect nail salons every year, but does not specify what inspectors should be looking for. Individual towns and cities are left to fill the gap by passing local laws, but dozens have yet to do so, and there is no statewide training or license required for people working on nails.
Connecticut requires licenses to cut hair, tattoo or massage, but it is the only state in the country that does not license nail technicians.
That concerns some local health directors.
“The customer should be able to have the same expectation of each and every nail technician,” Huleatt said.
The standardized training that would come with a statewide licensing program is something several health directors said would help them do their job and improve safety.
“We would have a sense of their education, their experience, the fact that there was a process that perhaps had them demonstrate their skills,” Huleatt said.
A spokesperson for the state Department of Health told NBC Connecticut Investigates that the department has no intention of pushing for state regulation of nail salons or nail technicians.
Since assuming ownership of his mother’s salon, Joo said he implemented strict sanitary procedures including using disposable plastic liners in their pedicure tubs. The health district confirmed it is fully code compliant.
McGowen said she ultimately received a payment from the salon. She still likes to get her nails done, but now brings her own tools and goes to salons in Massachusetts.
“It’s definitely, definitely changed my perspective on walking into just any other walk-in salon,” she said.