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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Dangers in the salon

There are health risks associated with common salon treatments such as manicures, waxing and hair extensions
The Straits Times - August 10, 2012
By: Rachel Felder
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Dangers in the salon Be warned: Manicures and other beauty rituals can pose health threats. Don’t let a visit to the salon end up with a trip to the clinic or hospital. -- ST POSED PHOTO

When Mr Byl Thompson went into a nail salon in Manhattan, New York, two summers ago for a quick manicure, he got more than just a simple buff and file.

Twenty-four hours later, he was in Mount Sinai Hospital with two intravenous drips in his arm, recovering from a bad infection he had contracted through a nick from cuticle clippers during the service.

"Little did I know that it was something that would compromise my life," said Mr Thompson, 46, a fashion and entertainment marketing executive.

It is far from glamorous, but many beautifying treatments in the salon - particularly the ones that are most popular this time of the year, such as nail treatments, waxing and eyelash and hair extensions - carry real health risks.

"With a lot of these, it's rare for it to happen, but when it does, you really need to be aware of what to look out for and be prepared," said Dr Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at the dermatology department at Mount Sinai, who did not treat MrThompson.

New York State's nail salon regulations require the disposal of most items used to stop the flow of blood. The rules are also clear about using hospital-grade disinfectants on tools and sterilising them for at least 10 minutes. But with high turnover and (frequently) very low prices, it is easy to understand how some salons have let their standards of cleanliness slip.

Clients also often inadvertently put themselves at more risk. Having a pedicure with cracked heels that are so common during flip-flop season, for example, leaves feet open to infections lurking in whirlpools and on nail files that have not been sufficiently cleaned. And even if you bring your own spotless tools, cuticle cutting is not recommended.

"Cuticles serve a function," Dr Zeichner said. "They protect the base of the nail from infections. I tell people to only have them pushed back."

Soak-off gel polishes like Gelish and CND Shellac are removed with acetone, which can be extremely drying and can cause nails to become brittle or to crack. To remove Gelish, a file is first used to break the topcoat's seal. With all soak-off gels, overzealous aestheticians - or consumers trying to get off stubborn colour at home - often end up removing layers of nail, too.

Earlier this year, CND began certifying nail salons that perform its Shellac procedures correctly; in New York City, that is just over half of the 95 facilities that offer the service.

Most gel manicures also use ultraviolet (UV) lamps to affix each layer of the product. Even though hands are not under the lamp for that long (six minutes in total with Shellac), there is a link between UV exposure and the development of skin cancer, which is why some people also avoid the UV drying lamps used after regular manicures.

Avoiding UV exposure is a key reason that spray tans have become so popular, but those are not necessarily safe either. The active colourant in self-tanners, DHA, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for external use, meaning that it is potentially harmful if it gets in your eyes, is ingested, or is inhaled through your mouth and nose, something that is nearly impossible to avoid during spray tanning.

Some dermatologists, like Dr Zeichner, tell patients to wear masks during the treatment.

Waxing, another bikini season staple, also presents potential health hazards. So-called double dipping - re-dunking a wax applicator into hot wax after it has been used on a client's skin - can spread bacteria into the pot. If you have a cut in the area that needs waxing, it might be worth rescheduling an appointment.

"Once your skin is not intact, it is more susceptible to infection," said DrDoris Day, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center.

That is not all.

"You can get a thermal burn if the wax is too hot," Dr Zeichner said. "You can traumatise the skin if the wax exfoliates too much. You could be taking off more than just hair. You could be taking off the top layer of skin, which can leave you raw and irritated."

Salon eyelash extensions, which last up to six weeks, are especially popular now, this being the season for weddings and vacations. JJ Eyelashes is seeing 80 clients on an average day at its two Manhattan locations. But many clients find it hard not to rub or tug at the extensions.

"If you damage the follicle, you can lose your lashes permanently," said Dr Day.

And the glue used can irritate the eyes. For patients who want thicker eyelashes, she and Dr Zeichner recommend Latisse, a prescription product to stimulate eyelash growth, although it can sometimes darken the colour of the eye or eyelid.

And what of your Kim Kardashian lookalike locks?

"Hair extensions can apply pressure, so in addition to permanent alopecia, or hair loss, you can certainly have hair breakage," said Dr Zeichner.

At the Oscar Blandi Salon on Madison Avenue, where extensions can run up to US$5,000 (S$6,200) for the most dramatic treatment, clients are often advised to take time off between adding and removing extensions or to opt for clip-on versions, which are less taxing on the scalp. They are also less taxing on the wallet.

~ THE NEW YORK TIMES

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