Sanitation, Disinfection, and Sterilization: Know the Differences

At Unvarnished, we frequently inform our guests that we practice surgical-grade sterilization. Not many people fully understand what that means and how our procedures make us different than standard salons and spas. We service many clients with advanced nail care needs. Many of these clients suffer from medical conditions (such as diabetes, which severely compromises their ability to fight infections). These clients require special care. Some guests may not even be aware that they’re suffering from a condition that makes them vulnerable.

Because of this, it is extremely important that our implements, surfaces, and basins are extremely clean, and that we treat every client as if they’re immunocompromised.

Level 1: Sanitation

Sanitation is basic tidiness. Our tables and surfaces are wiped free of dust and debris, the floors are swept, the treatment area is free of trash, and soiled towels are stored in a sealed container. Our hands are washed thoroughly prior to and immediately after servicing a client, and we wear gloves. Metal implements are scrubbed with soap and water. Sanitizing is a necessary part of our standard procedures at Unvarnished, but it is not enough to provide adequate protection from transmittable disorders.

Level 2: Disinfection

Disinfection is the destruction of viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Properly disinfecting implements and surfaces makes transmission of infections or disease incredibly unlikely. The combination of proper sanitation and disinfection of tools, surfaces, and equipment with an EPA-registered disinfectant has generally been considered an effective strategy for safety in salons and spas, but at Unvarnished, we’re not happy to stop there.

Level 3: Sterilization

Sterilization is the complete destruction of all microbial life on a surface, and the only verifiable method of cleanliness. Hospitals use sterilization on surgical tools.

After each service, our metal tools are disinfected. They are then dried and sealed in sterilizing envelopes. We place these envelopes into our autoclave and sterilize them using steam under pressure, ensuring the complete destruction of all microbial life. When the tools have been properly sterilized, a color changing indicator window at the top of each packet change from pale pink to dark brown. The tools remain sterile in their envelopes until they are ready to be used on the next client. Prior to the commencement of every service, our nail specialists present these envelopes to their guests so they can verify that the envelope is sealed and unbroken, and that the color changing indicator has darkened.

FAQ: Our Client Safety Protocols

How are your technicians trained?
Our technicians must undergo a rigorous internal technical training program covering bacteriology and disease prevention, disorder recognition, proper client care procedure, and more. They begin learning our protocols, starting first with our foundational service level (Undelayed) and gradually advancing. Until they complete this program and demonstrate technical proficiency, they’re not permitted to perform services unsupervised. 

Why don’t you use whirlpool spa chairs in your pedicures?
Click here to read our blog post about why we do not (and will never) use whirlpool spa chairs at Unvarnished.

What is the difference between a “wet” service and a “waterless” service?
We recommend waterless services at Unvarnished, but we do offer traditional wet services as well. The difference between them is simple: wet services include a brief soak, and waterless services exchange the soak in favor of a hot towel wrap treatment. Our waterless services are immensely popular. To learn more about the benefits of waterless, click here.

Why do your technicians wear gloves, and what does “aseptic” mean?
At Unvarnished, we aren’t required or expected to adhere to the same sanitation expectations as hospitals or nursing facilities, however we’re committed to working as aseptically as possible. Surgeons and physicians must create a working environment that’s free from contamination, and they do so by sterilizing their implements, discarding items that cannot be sterilized, disinfecting their surfaces, cleansing the skin with alcohol, and wearing personal protective equipment like gloves and masks. We do the same.

Many consumers aren’t aware, but even the most careful technicians cause microtrauma to their clients during the execution of their services. It’s impossible not to. Nail files, cuticle nippers, foot files, and skin exfoliants can cause imperceptibly tiny tears in your skin that the majority of clients don’t feel or notice. Anytime the skin is breached, infections have the opportunity to invade. With so many bacteria developing antibiotic resistances, it’s critically important that we implement as many safety measures as possible. We live by the motto, “It’s better to be safe than to be sorry.”

Many salons fail to meet even minimum standards of cleanliness, becoming public health menaces in their communities. We refuse to put our guests at risk and will always be committed to upholding the highest sanitation standards.

How are your foot basins cleaned?
Our pedicure bowls are simple copper basins. They contain no plumbing or circulation. We follow the EPA’s disinfection procedures by draining the basin after every service, scrubbing the bowl with a clean brush and disinfectant, and wiping the interior and exterior surfaces of the basin with disinfectant. We then fill it up with hot water and an EPA-registered disinfectant, leaving it to sit for 10 minutes. After draining the tub and drying it, we spray the surfaces with undiluted Wavicide (a 2% glutaraldehyde sterilant, effective against vegetative bacteria and viruses including HIV-1), and allow it to process for 10 minutes. Finally, the basin is rinsed with clean water to remove any chemical residue and allowed to air-dry.

If you have any questions regarding our sanitation procedures, please feel free to call us or email us at any time! You can rest assured that at Unvarnished, your health and safety are our first priorities.

Do you cut cuticles?
Cuticle removal is highly inadvisable.
Your cuticle’s purpose is to protect the nail matrix (where your nail grows from) from damage and infection. It needs to be soft, pliable, and healthy. At Unvarnished, we only remove non-living excess tissue. Cutting live cuticle causes a violent immune system response, resulting in thick, ropy cuticles over time. The risks are very much not worth the rewards.

Do you cut ingrown toenails?
Cutting an ingrown toenail can exacerbate the problem. Instead, we use a unique tool to gently file the sharp point protruding into the sidewall, so that the nail can grow out painlessly. Should we determine that your ingrown is too severe to benefit from filing, we will provide you with information on the ingrown toenail removal procedure and a referral to our favorite podiatrist, Dr.Katz of Gulf Coast Medical Group (in Venice).