Blisters are a fact of life. Simple household chores, such as raking leaves, or walking in a new pair of shoes can irritate skin, resulting in a blister. While most blisters are not caused by underlying health conditions, it’s important to ensure the safety of both you and your client when the condition pops up at your station. In this month’s Nail Clinic, we explore what causes blisters and how to manage them in the salon.
Cause & Effect
Blisters most commonly result from friction. “A blister is a collection of fluid that separates the upper layers of the epidermis,” says Tracey Vlahovic, D.P.M., F.F.P.M., R.C.P.S., an associate professor at Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine in Philadelphia. While blisters on the feet are most often due to rubbing (caused by new or ill-fitting shoes), the condition can develop for several reasons on the feet or hands. According to Sandra Kopp, M.D., a dermatologist at Schweiger dermatology group in New York City, other causes include burns, insect bites, contact dermatitis (such as poison ivy rash), eczema and infection-related blisters due to herpes, a fungal infection or a bacterial infection, such as impetigo. “A reaction to medication can also cause blisters,” says Vlahovic.
Certain health conditions may also make individuals more susceptible to blisters. “Rare genetic conditions that result in defects of the proteins that hold the skin together, such as epidermolysis bullosa, make the skin more fragile and prone to blistering,” says Kopp. Those with lupus, pemphigus and porphyria may also experience difficulty maintaining a strong bond between layers of skin, leaving them susceptible to blisters. Additionally, diabetic clients may have spontaneous eruptions of blisters and are at increased risk for the condition on their feet.
If a client has a blister, she may need to see a doctor, particularly if her symptoms include itching, inflammation, pus-filled blisters or if the nail is involved, says Vlahovic. “Any blisters that have no identifiable cause (i.e., ill-fitting shoes, sunburn, etc.) should be evaluated by a physician,” adds Kopp. Additionally, nail professionals shouldn’t break a client’s skin during a service, but can suggest that she consult a physician for tips for caring for a blister at home.
If a client shows up for a scheduled manicure or pedicure service and already has a broken blister, it’s important to take special safety precautions. “If there is raw skin present, be careful and cautious,” says Vlahovic. “Wear gloves, keep the area clean, and [if dealing with a foot blister] avoid the foot bath if possible.” She also advises not to pick, scrape or cut the area around the blister.
Techs should also take measures to protect themselves when treating clients with blisters. “Infectious blisters, such as herpes, fungus and bacteria, can all be spread with prolonged contact,” cautions Kopp. “Any open cuts on your hands that touch blood or other bodily fluids can be portals of entry for infectious diseases.” She recommends wearing disposable gloves and changing them in between each client, as well as sterilizing any materials before they are used on other clients.
To help prevent future blisters, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that individuals wear synthetic, moisture-wicking socks to provide a barrier against friction and keep skin cool and dry. If you feel a “hot spot” where a blister is starting to form, consider wearing an extra pair of socks or applying petroleum jelly to the area.
Sharing these tips, as well as taking proper precautions, should ensure a safe service for you and your clients.
• Blisters are small pockets of fluid that usually form in the upper layers of the skin after it has been damaged.
• Most blisters are filled with a clear fluid, but may be filled with blood or pus if they become infected.
• Most blisters heal naturally after three to seven days and don’t require medical attention.
• Available over-the-counter, hydrocolloid bandages have been shown to help prevent discomfort and encourage healing of blisters.
*Sources: National Health Services (NHS), Choices UK (www.nhs.uk)
-Karen Morse, M.P.H., is a freelance health writer in Menlo Park, CA.
[Image: Courtesy of ©getty images/FUSE]