10 Scary Pedicure Dangers That Could Land You in the ER

Updated: Apr. 09, 2021

If your local salon gets even a little careless, you can be exposed to a host of pedicure problems. Here are some scary situations you'll want to avoid.

Close-up Of Person's Hand Pedicuring Her Legs

Callus removers

Many salons offer callus remover procedures, often using cheese grater-like devices (or the real things!), but this can be very dangerous, warns Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, a podiatrist in New York, New York. “When these go too deep and are used on patients with thin skin, poor circulation, or diabetes, it can cause burns and terrible wounds or infections,” she says. To avoid this, she recommends using creams specially made for thicker foot skin. “These creams have gentler ingredients like urea and lactic acid and can be used several times a week to keep skin smooth and thin out calluses in little time,” she adds. Or you may want to try one of these reliable home remedies for removing calluses.

Professional pedicure in the beauty salon. The beautician cuts the skin with fingernails and performs professional pedicure.
Robert Przybysz/Shutterstock

Cutting the cuticles

The very purpose of cuticles are to protect the nail matrix, which are the cells that grow nails, explains Dr. Sutera. When the cuticle is cut, this can expose you to infections and damage to the nail matrix. “Damage to the nail matrix will permanently grow out nails that are thick, discolored and very unsightly,” she says. “This can often be mistaken for fungal nails.” Instead, she recommends having your technician gently push the cuticle back to remove the excess growth. “Only hangnails or jagged cuticle skin should be carefully trimmed with clean instruments,” she adds. Learn what your fingernails can reveal about your health.

Dipping toes into warm bubbling hot tub

Whirlpool baths

This might seem like a relaxing way to spend some time while you’re at the spa, but experts warn that there may be bacteria and fungus swirling around in those footbaths. “You can come out with unpleasant health issues after soaking in unsanitized whirlpool jets,” warns Caitlin Hoff, health and safety investigator for ConsumerSafety.org. To protect yourself, she recommends finding a salon that uses plain glass bowls (that they also clean between appointments) or individual bath liners that are removed and replaced between each client. Try these remedies for swollen feet.

Doctor Podiatry removes calluses, corns and treats ingrown nail. Hardware manicure. Concept body care.

Treatment of ingrown nails

Some nail techs treat ingrown nails, but podiatrists recommend against letting them do this. “Ingrown toenails often have already punctured the skin and sometimes have a localized abscess or pus pocket associated with it,” says Dr. Sutera. “If a trained podiatrist isn’t the one caring for it, you could be exposed to a bacterial infection which would require antibiotics or, worse, nail removal.” Here’s how to prevent ingrown toenails so you can avoid this altogether.

beauty treatment, body care series. pedicure applying - toe nails cleaning, cuticle cutting
Serghei Starus/Shutterstock


This is a common and sometimes deadly bacterial skin infection that typically enters your body through a cut or crack in your skin, warns Hoff. This is why experts recommend you wait 24 hours after shaving your legs to get a pedicure. “If your pedicurist accidentally cuts your cuticle or neighboring skin incorrectly, this open wound could be a new entry point as well for the bacteria,” she says. “If not treated, the infection will spread and potentially be life-threatening.” Here are some signs of cellulitis and other skin infections you should never ignore.

Sick woman drinking tea holding thermometer on couch
Peter Bernik/Shutterstock

The flu

While not linked to the actual process of getting a pedicure, close and personal environments, like the nail salon, can lead to the spread of the flu. “If workers are not wearing gloves, not washing hands in between clients, or seeing clients while they’re sick, it could spread the virus,” warns Dana Cozzetto, podiatrist with Mercy Medical Group in Carmichael, CA. “Remember, the flu virus can live for up to eight hours, so an infected customer could spread the virus to you if the chairs are not wiped down in between customers.”

foot pedicure applying woman's feet with red toenails in toe separators

Foot ulcers

Startling fact: An estimated 1.6 million New Yorkers with diabetes have foot ulcers, according to research by the New York Podiatric Medical Association (NYPSMA). “People with this condition, as well as vascular conditions, should especially avoid pedicures, as they are at greater risk for infections, ulcers, and amputations,” warns Patricia Nicholas, DPM, president of NYPSMA. “In 2010, 73,000 non-traumatic lower limb amputations were performed in the U.S. due to diabetes.” Here are healthy-feet tips for people with diabetes.

Dark Skinned African American Woman in Bath
Dewayne Flowers/Shutterstock

Shaving your legs pre-pedicure

You want to give your legs a fresh shave before you head to the salon and risk judgment by your nail tech, but experts say this is an easy way to get an infection. “Shaving your legs with a razor exposes the skin and creates micro cuts which could let in infections from improperly sanitized instruments, foot tubs, and even the hands of the technician,” says Dr. Sutera. To avoid this, she recommends waiting until after your pedicure to shave.

People are using nail clippers to clean.

Sharing tools

Believe it or not, some salons don’t properly sanitize—or even wash!—their tools in between customers. That’s why experts recommend bringing your own so you know they’re clean—buff blocks, nail file, clippers, scissors, nippers, etc. “Unsterilized, shared tools can increase your risk for toenail fungus, foot fungus, as well as blood-borne infections, like hepatitis and HIV,” warns Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles. “Just because the salon says that they sterilize their equipment, you need to see the sealed, sterile package with the brown dot or stripe that develops during the sterilization process.”

Woman getting a pedicure in a beauty salon, close up
Africa Studio/Shutterstock


According to Jacob Wynes, DPM, assistant professor in the department of orthopaedics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine & Foot and Ankle Surgery, the simple act of soaking your feet can lead to fluctuations in moisture balance as well as fissuring, which is a known cause of cellulitis or deep-skin infection, especially in patients who are prone to leg swelling. He recommends avoiding prolonged soaking, particularly if you are prone to dry skin.

Next, don’t miss these things your podiatrist isn’t telling you.