ABC 20/20 Undercover Nail Salon Segment: What They Didn’t Cover

On March 7, ABC 20/20 did an investigative segment featuring people’s negative experiences at nail salons and uncovered some ugly truths about sanitation in nail salons. The segment only featured a couple salons who weren’t following proper sanitation and business practices. But, is this really an accurate illustration of the industry as a whole?

In 2011, $7.30 billion was spent on nail services. In 2012, $7.47 billion was spent and in 2013, it shot up to $8.28 billion! Plus, the employment of nail technicians is projected to grow 16 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average of all other occupations!

Two years ago, E! Network even introduced the famous “Mani-Cam” during the award season so that fans could see celebrities’ nail art and manicures. I think it’s safe to say that the nail industry is growing!

But what’s with all this negativity towards salons; Asian ones especially? Is it by coincidence that these shows have been targeting Asian salons where the people can’t speak English well and can’t defend themselves? It seems the Asian salons are an easy target and are getting the brunt of it. But more than half of the salons out there are Asian, so they must be doing something right.

Not every nail salon out there has exceptional customer service and sanitation practices, not even some of the high-end salons and perhaps this 20/20 segment will be informative enough to teach poorly ran salons the proper ways to run their business. But ABC 20/20 only pointed out a few poorly run Asian nail salons and ignored the hundreds of thousands of others that are running their business properly. So, what did ABC 20/20 not cover?

ABC 20/20 Investigates

Athena Elliot, salon owner and nail tech for 34 years who rates other salons for her website, says that too many salons take shortcuts. 20/20 went undercover into salons using hidden cameras in glasses, purses and even water bottles in New York and Houston.

Footage shows techs using buffing blocks that have what looks like white chalk all over it but it is probably someone else’s dead skin. According to state regulations, those types of tools are one-use only.

They swabbed a foot bath and found 28 million fecal bacteria and on a towel, staph. That’s bad! But that’s just one salon and most salons do not have a problem like that to that severity.

Some techs were using credo blades, which are banned in at least 45 states and are meant for a doctor to use.

Some salons were even using a Dremel, which is a home improvement tool used to sand wood and cut wood and metal. This type of device is not recommended for use on feet. But in the end, tools don’t hurt people, people hurt people and if nail techs are going to use certain tools to provide a service, they need to be educated on how to do so. Many nail techs don’t use nail drills they use nail files because they don’t know how to use an electric nail file; it’s a skill. Even using a nail file too roughly can injure a client!

The Sanitation Practices of the Nail Industry

It used to be true that years ago, salons were not nearly as conscious about their sanitation practices as they are today and many would use the same tools for different customers. Now, salon owners are using auto-clave sterilization pouches for their tools, pedicure tub liners and disposable tools. Disposable implements, files and buffers were not as common years ago. Now, salons can buy them in bulk and not only save money, but increase their clientele by being hygienic.

Salon-goers are much more aware of sanitation issues than ever before. It’s a growing industry and germs are always on people’s minds. Clients are smart and are getting smarter. Salons need to keep up or they will lose their business to competitors or will be shut down.

But in all, the sanitation practices of the nail industry are improving. Nail technicians and beauty professionals have much more education than they ever have. More professionals have schooling, licenses and are educated by other professionals.

Asian versus Non-Asian Salons

There seems to be a lot of chatter online targeting and bad-mouthing the Asian salons. First, it doesn’t matter what race runs the salon. Non-Asian salons can have sanitation issues too. And secondly, instead of pointing fingers, the professionals of the nail industry should come together to figure out how to fix these sanitation issues, grow the industry and figure out how to improve their business practices. There is definitely tension between the Asian and non-Asian salons and that is something that is a hidden secret, people are pretty hush-hush about it but let’s end it! We are all in this together!

Just because a couple nail techs at a salon don’t speak fluent English doesn’t mean they aren’t able to provide great service. Sure there may be a language barrier but some of the cleanest and most popular salons are run by Asian nail techs. Plus, nail techs speak with their talents as artists, they’re not speech givers.

Nobody is trying to cover up or encourage poor sanitation and business practices but it’s not fair to only focus on the bad Asian salons. What about the good Asian salons?

Tips for Perfecting Your Salon

There are simple steps that every salon can do to improve their sanitation and business practices. It’s a pampering service and it’s the salon’s responsibility to keep it that way. Buy bulk disposable products, tub liners and always wear gloves.

Nail techs should either sanitize and disinfect every tool after each customer or use disposable implements. It should be one or the other. They should also wash their hands and have their clients do the same or use waterless sanitizer. If you can afford to hire a receptionist, they can prepare tools for each new customer, much like a dentist office, to save the nail techs time. Cleaning and sanitizing only takes about 5 minutes after each client and it could save your business!

But, we need to give credit to these undercover segments. They bring out the truth, educate the customer and help change the industry for the better. In any industry, sanitation and customer service will never be 100 percent but things are getting better and improving in the nail industry. We are on the right path!

Remember, just because a salon has higher prices than the salon down the street, doesn’t mean it’s cleaner. ABC 20/20 started and ended the segment saying that salon-goers will probably want to rethink their weekly mani-pedi after seeing this segment. Well, all we can say is that these types of undercover segments have done before on the nail industry but the industry is still growing fast and has never been bigger. What does that say 20/20?