Inspections at nail salons reveal serious violations

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The vast majority of nail salons across Rhode Island are in good standing with the R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH), but Target 12 has uncovered serious violations at some establishments that specialize in manicures and pedicures.

One Rhode Island woman told Target 12 that a little luxury turned into expensive medical bills.

“The woman that did my pedicure was jamming the tools and file deep under my skin,” the woman wrote in an email. “A few days later I began feeling ill.”

She said a podiatrist had to remove part of her toe nail.

Doctor Helena Kuhn, a dermatologist with Brown Dermatology said she treats similar cases regularly.

“It’s definitely a real threat and health concern,” she said. “The sharp instruments, the pumice stones, they create micro tears in the skin. If there’s bacteria in the pedicure booth, on the instruments, it makes is easier for that bacteria to get into your skin.”

“Bacterial infections usually occur within a few days of the procedure,” she added. “So if you have redness, swelling, increased pain, perhaps even a fever, that’s something to be concerned about.”

Fungal infections are also a risk, according to Kuhn.

“Fungal infections usually occur weeks to months later, but if you notice a change in the color of your nail, looking more white or yellow, that’s indicative of a fungal infection,” Kuhn said.

One inspector, 161 nail salons

There are 161 licensed nail salons in Rhode Island, and about 1,600 licensed manicurists.

Target 12 has learned the RIDOH’s sole nail salon inspector does about 800 inspections each year at nail salons. Some are scheduled, others are unannounced. Many inspections stem from consumer complaints.

“The inspections we do are extremely thorough,” said Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for RIDOH.

“About 40% of the time that our inspector goes out to a nail salon, they’ll observe some kind of violation,” he said. “A lot of the things are relatively minor that can be addressed day of.”

“Grave Violations”

Records show the health department revoked the license for Sister’s Salon in Central Falls in October because of “grave violations” including alleged drug dealing.

Target 12 also obtained the compliance order that was issued to a nail salon in Coventry when the state inspector discovered the business was, “not cleaning, disinfecting, sanitizing, and/or sterilizing manicuring tools… after using them.”

Additionally, the salon was, “employing workers who are not licensed manicurists,” according to records.

“What our job is to do is be in there and really make sure owners are doing what they need to do to keep consumers safe,” Wendelken said.

How to choose a nail salon:

  • Look for licenses for the business and the manicurist.
  • Check for disposable or freshly laundered towels.
  • Evaluate the overall cleanliness in the business.
  • Ask how equipment is sterilized.
  • Search for disciplinary action against a salon

For an extra level of protection, Dr. Kuhn said she advises patients to take their own disposable tools and liners for pedicure tubs to the salon.

Susan Campbell ( is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.