How Clean is Clean?


As salon owners and staff members, we are required to see to the safety and sanitation of our salons, equipment and implements. This means we need to get them clean. Really clean — how clean, is that, exactly?

Pseudomonas aeruginosa, is a bacteria sometimes found under nail products. It is a very common bacteria that thrives in conditions all over the world and it’s just one type of microbe that salons must deal with. There are untold millions. Everything that touches you or your clients must be thoroughly clean for health and safety. Let’s talk about how clean things need to be.

The first level of clean is sanitation. The CDC defines it as “remove gross debris” which is a funny way of saying all visible, tangible stuff that might be present. This can be done with a wipe or running water or a brush. It includes soaking or wiping our tweezers in acetone to remove the AE, spraying and wiping down our counters with a “sanitizer” such as alcohol, washing our hands under running water, brushing small implements with soapy water, etc. Generally, this level of clean takes care of the majority of bacteria but does nothing about spores, virii and other microbes. Certain persistent bacteria are not affected by this level of clean, therefore, we must do more.

The next level of clean is disinfection. This is defined by killing the germs that might be present. It consists of things like full immersion of already sanitized implements in clean, properly diluted disinfectant solution, a wet spray applied to hard surfaces of a disinfectant that has surfactants to keep it “wet” for the time needed to kill the bacteria present, etc. Bleach has a very quick kill time—it takes less than a minute for 10% solution of bleach to kill 99.999% of all microbes. It takes longer for other solutions. There are inherent problems with bleach (and others) such as removing all color, fumes that are dangerous when inhaled and especially dangerous in an ammonia rich environment like a salon, etc. This level does not take care of certain hard-shelled bacteria spores and virii, but is deemed acceptable by most regulatory agencies for salons where we are working outside the body.

The highest level of clean is sterilization. This is defined by killing all microbes and spores present. It can be achieved in 3 well documented ways: glutaraldehyde solution with a full immersion. It is an oily, pungent solution, extremely dangerous to handle and inhale. Dry heat sterilization is achieved with dry sterilizers that look like little ovens. The most common time-temperature relationships for sterilization with hot air sterilizers are 170oC (340oF) for 60 minutes, 160oC (320oF) for 120 minutes, and 150oC (300oF) for 150 minutes. The third is with wet heat or steam in an autoclave. The two common steam-sterilizing temperatures are 121oC (250oF) and 132oC (270oF). These temperatures (and other high temperatures) 830 must be maintained for a minimal time to kill microorganisms. Recognized minimum exposure periods for sterilization of wrapped healthcare supplies are 30 minutes at 121oC (250oF) in a gravity displacement sterilizer or 4 minutes at 132oC (270oC) in a prevacuum sterilizer. This level of clean has not been mandated for use in salons that perform “beauty” services outside the body/skin barrier, but it is a level of security you can offer your staff, your clients and yourself. It is the “extra mile” that sets you apart from the discount shop down the street.

Unfortunately, in the beauty industry, there are lots of things that call themselves “sterilizers” which are NOT. A friend of mine, Tina Alberino, a very vocal nail tech and industry blogger is in the process of bringing all the UV Light box companies to the attention of the authorities for false advertising. UV light does NOT sterilize–it has a very low kill rate. The light cannot bend around corners or enter cracks or get underneath items. “Sterilizer” beads are considered ineffective due to the contamination found in units tested with spore tests by the CDC and the FDA has banned them for use in medical and dental offices (these were commonly seen in dental offices in the past.)

An unfortunate occurrence in salons is the failure to achieve disinfection due to OE (operator error).

There are several areas that commonly break down in the disinfection process: implements must be cleaned and all debris removed so the disinfectant can touch 100% of the surface…and that means full immersion. Putting the tips of an implement in disinfection simply means the cooties run up the handle! The solution must be freshly mixed–many lose efficacy with exposure to air. The solution must be at the proper dilution…some are sold in concentrations of 1:128 (1 ounce per gallon) 1:64, etc. And the solution must not be contaminated with soap, oil, alcohol or even water from the “sanitation” step.

Most state boards have stated that porous, non-solid items may not be used from client to client as they cannot be properly sanitized or, more importantly, disinfected.  So, a good rule of thumb is, if an implement can be scrubbed clean under running water with a soapy brush, rinsed, patted dry and soaked for the full amount of time my disinfectant requires  OR  run through the heat sterilizer OR run through an autoclave…and still be usable, then it’s acceptable to re-use it. If it can’t survive a full disinfectant process at the very least…it’s disposable.

With the right steps and products, everything in the salon can be clean and safe…for your clients and for you, as well.

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