good health
Ugly truth behind beauty treatments
One can end up getting serious bacterial, fungal and viral infections at salons and spas if basic hygiene is not taken care of
Dr Vikas Sharma

With a variety of head-to-toe beauty treatments available and getting popular now-a-days, one needs to be aware of health and safety concerns at the beauty salons and spas. No matter, how posh or pricey a salon or spa is, if it isnít keeping up with health and safety standards, it can easily be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and germs. Be sure that all non-disposable instruments used are sterilised in an autoclave, a medical-grade device that uses superheated steam to sterilise. It's the only way to be sure that infectious organisms have been destroyed.

Bacterial, fungal and viral infections (including hepatitis C, staph infections and warts) can be transmitted via unwashed hands and unsanitary instruments. Todayís concern revolves around Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a type of bacterial infection thatís resistant to anti-biotics and thus hard to treat. Everyone has bacteria on their skin but you and your body live in harmony with it. Transfer this to another person with an open sore, and it may cause problems. The infection can be as simple as a little irritation around a hair follicle, or as severe as an infection that could lead to serious illness. When going for hair treatments, remember scalp infections, bacterial and fungal can be caused due to dirty or contaminated combs. An inflammatory fungal infection of scalp hair can lead to permanent, irreversible bald patches. Men need to make sure that disposable razor blades are used to trim their hair so as to avoid hepatitis B and HIV.

Body hair removal techniques like waxing sometimes can cause redness, breakouts, severe infections, irritant reactions and ingrown hair. Always check if salon staff doing waxing are using fresh wax jar and maintaining proper hygiene and sanitation. Confirm that there is no double-dipping (putting an earlier used tool back into the wax) and no double-using (reusing wax) policies to avoid product contamination. Being alert about these facts becomes paramount for women because if hygiene and sanitary measures during waxing (especially bikini waxing) go haywire, then there is a risk of getting infected by viruses like herpes, molluscum contagiosum and genital warts, which, otherwise in adults, are sexually transmitted. These can be transferred from an infected client to a healthy customer specially while getting waxed in and around bikini and gluteal areas. Do not wax over an area that has had a botox injection for at least 72 hours. Do not wax if you have protruding varicose veins, diabetes, skin eczema or infection. Do not wax if you are using any anti-ageing or acne creams that may contain a retinoid, as skin will be extra susceptible to getting burned and peeled off.

All spa-goers, too, need to be alert of many potential risks . If you have any open cuts or abrasions, cancel your appointment until they clear. Any open area of skin can invite infection. Persons with diabetes need to be extra precautious when getting foot treatments. Any break in the skin, potentially from aggressive trimming of a callous or cuticle, can increase the risk of serious foot infections. Those with eczema, psoriasis, asthma and hypertension or with a tendency of recurrent herpes, fungal and bacterial infections need to careful before a sauna bath. Since dry heat can make skin breathing difficult, steam rooms are often a better option.

The main danger pregnant women have to watch out for is heat. Anything with the potential to raise their body temperatures above safe levels, including saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs and other heat-related treatments, should be off limits. Hair bleaches and removal creams, aromatherapy and lasers are also considered a bad idea during pregnancy.

The manicure and pedicure seem great indulgences, but one needs to be aware of the medical fact that these can also cause allergic reactions, infections and irritation if not done properly. Before using a whirlpool footbath, make sure that foot spas have been properly disinfected. Micro-organisms living in footbaths can enter through the skin and cause infection. Donít get a pedicure if you have cuts, bug bites, scratches or scabs. Ideally, each customer should get a new buffer and file. If thatís not the case, bring your own instruments. Aggressive use of pointed nail files to remove under nail debris can cause splinter haemorrhages (blood spots under the nail plate). Bacterial paronychia (red swollen nail folds) can be caused by usage of contaminated cuticle scissors. Viral warts around and under the nail plate can spread by person-to-person contact or contaminated instruments when Human Papilloma Virus makes contact with a break in the skin.

The writer is a chief consultant dermatologist, National Skin Hospital, Mansa Devi Complex, Panchkula

head-to-toe care

Hair brushes, combs and cutting scissors should be clean and properly disinfected. Avoid the powder puff used before waxing or threading. Bring your own.

Look for spas and salons that use non-jetted soaking bowls to ensure a safe environment for feet.

If you canít give up the whirlpool footbath, make sure the jets and filters are clean and disinfected.

Dipping the instruments in some solution is not going to kill bacteria and fungi. The place should use either a proper disinfectant or an autoclave for sterilising the instruments.

Check the labels. Spa or salon disinfectant should be EPA-registered hospital-level liquid that is virucidal, bactericidal and fungicidal that is 10 per cent bleach; 70 per cent or higher isopropyl or ethyl alcohol.