They lurk around every corner—under fingernails, on skin, hair, clothes, doorknobs, food, plants, and animals—germs are found on virtually every surface. But what exactly are germs? And what do you do when infectious germs appear in the salon? Here, we take an in-depth look at germs, uncover where they may be hiding (i.e., at your nail station, on your client’s skin, etc.), discuss how they arrive in your salon, grow and thrive, and most importantly, how to fight them.
Good vs. Bad Germs
So, what exactly are germs? While the word “germ” seems to have many meanings, it’s essentially any kind of infectious organism. In regards to hands, feet and nails, germs can be divided into the three basic categories: bacteria, viruses and fungi.
In terms of bacteria, many of us have heard that there are good bacteria and bad bacteria. However, Doug Schoon, chief scientific advisor for CND, based in Vista, California, explains, “I don’t know that any [bacteria] are bad. Some are infectious, and I think we classify any kind of an organism that’s infectious as bad. But the vast majority of microscopic organisms on the planet are not infectious at all.” He explains further, “Most either do nothing for us or many are positive and beneficial. For example, we wouldn’t have bread, beer, yogurt and many things without these microorganisms.”
While the vast majority of bacteria do not cause any harm or injury to people, the few that do are called pathogens. “Human pathogens are capable of causing infections in humans,” he says. These are the types of germs that you do not want cropping up in your salon.
An Open Invite
You don’t need to hang a welcome sign at the front door for bacteria to enter your salon. They arrive whether invited or not. “They’re all over us,” explains Schoon. “We typically carry hundreds of species of bacteria on our skin at any time, depending on what we’re in contact with.”
Bacteria can be transmitted from one surface to another by touch and also by indirect contact via dust particles. That’s why it’s so important to keep the salon dust free. “Dust particles can be colonized by bacteria,” says Schoon. “The dust blows around, it lands someplace and the bacteria get a free ride to that new place. And if they like it there, they’ll start to grow.”
While we’re covered with hundreds, if not billions, of kinds of bacteria all the time they generally cause no problems—that is, unless there’s a break in the skin. “If a break in the skin occurs, then the bacteria can enter into that break and start a colony growing and that’s what we call an infection,” says Schoon. And when clients come into the salon, he says, “Our job is to prevent [bacteria] from getting in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
There are countless types of infectious bacteria that effect nails, hands and feet. Oftentimes, the most common bacteria to surface at the salon are staphylococcus aureus and pseudomonas aeruginosa. “Those are the ones that are most often cultured when we look at fingernail infections,” says Schoon. In regard to viruses and fungi, there are dozens that could appear in the salon setting. “There are wart viruses that cause warts and there are fungal organisms that cause fungal infections of the hands or feet,” he says.
A Hospitable Host
While bacteria naturally exist in our body, certain parts of the body are more likely to grow microbes than others. For example, a lot of bacteria grow underneath fingernails or between the webs of fingers. However, few bacteria grow between the webs of toes. Schoon explains, “A lot of it is how hospitable an environment is for that particular bacteria: Do they like to grow in that area? Is there plenty of food or moisture there for them? Are they protected?”
One such bacteria that seems to thrive in the salon setting is pseudomonas aeruginosa, also commonly referred to as greenies, located on the nail plate. A greenie is usually found in the center of an enhancement, where there is lifting. Sometimes it is also found under lifting at the cuticle areas. “It is clear and if the nail tech does not prep the nail properly, the bacteria will age and the green will be visible during their next fill,” says Vicki Peters, president of Henderson, Nevada-based Vicki Peters nail products. “The green color is caused from the waste products of these bacteria. When the green is visible it means the bacteria has been there for a while,” she explains. “Due to the green color, it’s often mistaken for mold, but it’s really a bacteria.”
“On rare occasions pseudomonas aeruginosa can cause serious infections, particularly of the eyes, so good sanitation and disinfection practices are important for more than just cosmetic reasons,” says Peters. “An untreated greenie can turn into a black/brown nail and can cause the client permanent [nail] damage.”