Safety problems persist at some of the city’s nearly 200 nail salons two years after Boston health regulators issued rules to improve conditions, prompting a new batch of proposals targeting ventilation systems and sterilization of equipment used in manicures and pedicures.
The proposals from the Boston Public Health Commission also include a ban on the double-dipping of tools during waxing, a treatment that removes body hair, typically around eyebrows, lips, and bikini lines.
The practice can spread diseases among customers. The commission received 10 reports of infections between September 2012 and August of this year, “but unfortunately I think a lot of them go unreported,” said Tiffany Skogstrom, the commission’s Safe Nail Salon Project coordinator. Some of the infections were reported after waxings and pedicures, she said.
Under the new rules, salons would be required to discard a waxing tool after each contact with a client’s skin, instead of repeatedly dipping it in a communal bowl of warmed wax, which is what inspectors often find.
“The wax itself is not heated to a high-enough degree to kill bacteria, so you can get herpes or other infections,” said Skogstrom. “It’s kept at body temperature, so it doesn’t kill anything.”
A public hearing on the proposals is scheduled at the agency’s headquarters Tuesday evening.
Since the last rules went into effect in July 2011, conditions have significantly improved at the salons, regulators said. Yet more than half — 120 of the 196 licensed shops in Boston — failed their initial inspections and had to undergo mandatory training sessions, according to the commission.
Twenty-four salons failed inspections twice.
Salon workers and their customers also are vulnerable to infections from implements that may have residual specks of blood from treatments and have not been properly cleaned. Of particular concern to regulators are pedicure tools known as skin graters and credo blades, which are used to remove callouses, but can too often nick customers and expose others to blood-borne diseases.
“We have found credo blades with blood on them in salons, not often, but enough to make us unhappy about it,” said Skogstrom.
Both instruments are prohibited under state rules.
The proposals would require salons to sterilize other types of reusable instruments in an autoclave, which uses high-pressure steam, or with a dry heat system approved by federal regulators.
With many shops tucked into basements or back rooms of spas that have poor ventilation systems, salon workers and their customers are routinely exposed to a brew of toxic fumes from nail polish and other chemical-laden products, regulators say.
The proposals would require newly licensed shops to install a ventilation system that blows the salon’s air out, and draws in fresh air from outside, instead of the set-ups inspectors often find, which simply recirculate the same fumes. Existing shops would be given five years to comply.
Hoping to encourage salons to voluntarily improve conditions beyond the mandatory rules, the commission launched a Green & Clean program in March that rewards participating shops with signs to put in their windows and free promotion of their services when customers call the commission looking for reputable shops.
The program emphasizes strict sterilization practices and use of environmentally friendly products that curb harsh chemicals; promotes the use of recyclable materials; and encourages the conservation of heat, light, and water. So far six shops have made the grade, including Vanna Vu’s Treasured Hands Beauty Salon on Boylston Street.
Since March, Vu said she bought an autoclave to sterilize her instruments, switched to disposable tools for waxing treatments, added organic nail shellacs, and began using only environmentally friendly bathroom tissue.
She estimates that the upgrades have cost her business about $500 more, per month, and that does not include a planned overhaul of her ventilation system.
“It cost me a lot more, but I have not passed that cost to the consumer yet because I am OK to absorb that until I cannot afford it,” Vu said.
She’s been in the business for 28 years and had wanted to make the improvements but was not sure how to go about it until the commission’s new program, which works closely with shop owners, Vu said.
“The nail salon is like my home,” Vu said. “For the sake of our health, I think $500 is cheaper than what we are exposed to every day.”
The commission’s public hearing is Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at 1010 Massachusetts Ave., Hayes Conference Room, second floor. To contact the commission about nail salon concerns, call 617-534-5965.