Millions of men and women get manicures, pedicures and haircuts every day. But there’s a lot more to these grooming services than just picking a nail color, deciding how much hair to trim and chatting with your favorite stylist. While you’re in the chair, flipping through a gossip magazine or watching a sports event, aestheticians and barbers are wielding instruments that could, in some cases, transmit hepatitis, according to a report from the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG).

The scary review found that reusable instruments, such as razors, clippers and nail files, posed a potential risk of transmitting the hepatitis B and C viruses (HBV and HCV) if technicians didn’t scrupulously clean and disinfect the items after using them on each client.

Hepatitis viruses are transmitted through contact with infected blood, and they cause inflammation of the liver, which, in turn, leads to other liver problems. In fact, viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer, the most common reason people need a liver transplant.

From a public health perspective, one of the most important elements regarding the safety of salon and barbershop services is whether workers follow sanitation procedures, says David Johnson, MD, a professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

In at least one documented case, an acute HCV infection was clearly related to a manicure or pedicure treatment. “No one should accept on blind trust that a business is taking the necessary steps to prevent transmission of blood-borne infections,” Johnson says.

As a result of the report, the ACG proposed new guidelines to eliminate the risk. These include education and training for all technicians, and stricter requirements regarding hygiene, inspections and disinfection and storage of tools and other equipment.

But although this is a step in the right direction, currently there are no specific national guidelines in place to prevent HBV or HCV infection in nail salons and barbershops. What’s more, the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations (OSHA) has yet to issue a recommendation about hepatitis prevention at these businesses. In addition, neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System lists manicures, pedicures or barbering as risk factors for hep B and C.

But, Johnson warns, “The true magnitude of this risk has yet to be defined, and it clearly needs further study.”

In the meantime, he suggests you protect yourself by doing the following: Only visit reputable professionals you trust, and find out if tools and equipment are cleaned and disinfected after each use. Or, better yet, Johnson says, always bring your own clippers, razors and nail files whenever possible.    

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