Suzann Cowing found out the hard way that pedicures can leave women with more than beautiful toes. When she went to a local nail salon in 2006 she apparently had a small cut, which led to an infection.
"I knew something was wrong," she recalled. "There was a redness and swelling that just didn't go away. And the nail got thick in certain places." The dermatologist told her she could take an oral medication for a year, but it might cause liver damage. Or she could apply an antifungal medication, which she did - for many months.
"Like anything, once you have something, you hear about 50 other people who have it," Suzann said. The horror stories included women who developed boils all over their legs from equipment that was not properly disinfected. She even found three deaths from staph infections.
Suzann, an attorney who retired from practice to raise her three children, began to contact health departments. Everyone agreed that the infections were a shame but no one was really worried. Because so many salons are individually owned, she said, it is hard to make sure that everybody is practicing good sanitation.
So she decided to take action. First, she developed a list of safety tips from her research. For instance, if a salon looks dirty, just leave, because it could be dangerously dirty. Never get a beauty treatment if you have broken skin. Also, don't shave your legs within 24 hours of any foot-spa treatment; this opens the pores and gives infection a point of entry. And be sure that pedicure baths have been thoroughly disinfected.
Next Suzann worked with a scientist to develop a 100 percent natural product that could be brought to salons and added to the pedicure bath. "I thought it would be good to bring my own products along, little packets that I can keep in the car or throw into my purse," she said.
A lot of companies develop cosmetics but she needed one to cultivate an antiseptic solution, she said, plus she wanted to use natural moisturizers, cleansing oils and antibacterials. She finally began to work with a scientist, who soon sent her a sample. But it didn't pass the nose test.
"It didn't smell good," she explained. "Him being a man, he didn't quite get it." She finally convinced him that women getting pedicures want the luxury of scented solutions and would buy nothing that fell short. Once he understood this, he achieved the goal. Just reading the list of ingredients makes my feet cry out for them: JoJoba Oil, Sesame Oil, French Lavender Oil, Tea Tree Oil, Wild Thyme Oil, Origanum Vulgare Oil and Spanish Rosemary Oil.
Suzann also put together a tool kit for women to take with them to salons. "That's the gold standard for protecting yourself - bringing your own tools," she said. Any time someone is cutting you with a metal tool you want to make sure it's clean, she explained. "They are just like surgical tools." Her kits wrap the tools in black and tie them with a pink ribbon.
Now when Suzann walks into a salon with her special solution for the pedicure bath and her own tools, she is interested in the reaction of the employees. "If it never occurred to them, it is a red flag," she said. "Most places are very receptive." She noted that some salons even require clients to purchase tools.
Her five-pack box of solution sells for $12.95 at SaniManiPedi.com. The pedicure kit is $49.95, which includes professional grade stainless steel nail clipper, pusher and cuticle nipper, an orange stick, file, callus stone and two samples of her solution. The products are available at Dabble in Blackhawk.
Suzann has been getting good feedback.
"What a great idea! I knew I should be bringing my own tools to the salon but just never got it together. Your ManiPedi kit makes it so easy, and it's so cute too," wrote Meghan B. of Pacific Palisades. Others told about having sworn off pedicures after they or their friends contracted nasty infections. One woman said she gave the kits to her bridesmaids as thank-you presents, then they all got their nails done together.
Suzann says she was annoyed with herself that she didn't pay attention through the years when she heard about women getting infections along with their pedicures. Instead she had to learn the hard way. But now she's trying to make it easier for women to heed the warnings and treat themselves to this luxury.
"Pedicures are a relatively inexpensive way to pamper yourself," she said. But please, make sure all you get from the salon is beautiful feet.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.