Aired January 10, 2006 - 20:00   ET


Aired January 10, 2006 - 20:00   ET



PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us tonight.


And tonight's "Eye Opener" -- danger hidden in the most unlikely place. Wait until you see how this bride's wedding was ruined by a common pedicure.




ZAHN: And I want to warn you now that the pictures you are about to see, you might find incredibly disturbing. We have a story I think is going to shock you.


Can you imagine going into a salon to try to treat yourself to a pedicure and ending up like this woman, permanently scarred because of a skin infection? I realize this is going to be hard for some of you to stomach, but it will help you understand a growing problem all across the country.


If this happened to you, you might never want to wear a dress again.


Our consumer correspondent, Greg Hunter, has been all over the country investigating nail salons, a $6.5 billion-a-year industry. And what he found is tonight's "Eye Opener."




GREG HUNTER, CNN CONSUMER CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's supposed to be a treat for your toes, a pedicure in a whirlpool foot spa, but did you know a relaxing pedicure could lead to this, a terrible skin infection that causes painful leg boils?


MARILYN CLARKE, SUFFERED SKIN INFECTION: I had huge, oozing lesions on my leg, pussy oozing.


CYNTHIA HINZ, SUFFERED SKIN INFECTION: It looks like cigarette burns, somebody took cigarettes and went up and down your leg.


HUNTER: Hundreds of women have developed skin infections after getting pedicures in salons. Doctors say it's a disturbing trend caused by bacteria that can grow in dirty foot spas.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really can't scare people enough regarding this. It's a very real threat.


HUNTER (on camera): All across the country?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All across the country.


HUNTER (voice-over): In the U.S., the problem was first noticed in California, where there had been three serious outbreaks of bacterial infections in five years.


In 2002, a month after getting a pedicure near San Jose, Angela Lenkto (ph) noticed what she thought were mosquito bites. The bumps turned into sores. Her father, a surgeon, had to drain daily by squeezing them.


(on camera): Painful?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Extremely painful, and kind of like grit- your-teeth, you know, scream-out-loud painful.


HUNTER (voice-over): And, worst of all, Lenkto (ph) was suffering during one of the biggest events of her life, her wedding.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were open sores that were -- that were seeping with puss.


HUNTER (on camera): All under your beautiful white wedding dress?




HUNTER: Pretty memorable?




HUNTER (voice-over): But Lenkto (ph) isn't alone.


(on camera): Did any of you ever imagine that you would be saying, pedicure, open sores in the same sentence?






HUNTER (voice-over): All of these women have sued California salons for skin infections after a pedicure.


MONICA DITTRICH, SUFFERED SKIN INFECTION: It really makes you feel ugly and damaged. And I really felt like a leper.


HUNTER: The Centers for Disease Control says, infections like these are caused by this water-borne bacteria. In a 2002 study of California salons, the CDC found the rapidly growing bacteria were highly prevalent in whirlpool footbaths.


Infections have now been reported in 12 states. Dr. Shelly Sacoola Gibbs (ph), a dermatologist, says you can absorb bacteria from dirty footbath water from through a tiny cut or abrasion on your skin.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It can really hurt people's legs. And it can leave them with disfiguring scars. So, it's very bad.


HUNTER: Something these women know all too well. Several showed us their legs.


Nineteen-year-old Britney Welby (ph) had some of the worst scars.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not the same person anymore. And I can't live the life that I used to when I was 18. This past year has just damaged me so much.


HUNTER: Infections can be prevented, scientists say, if foot spas are cleaned properly.


One problem is this screen that covers the plumbing in many machines. It can trap dirt, hair, and skin, turning the tub into a breeding ground for bacteria.


We wanted to see for ourselves what's behind foot spa screens. So, we went along with this salon inspector in Raleigh, North Carolina.




HUNTER: In the first shop, the foot spa screens turn out to be clean. But, at another salon, watch what happens when this footbath screen is removed. Look how much buildup is there. The owner claims it's from one day of doing pedicures.


(on camera): So, that's from one day?


KELLY NGUYEN, SALON OWNER: Yes. We got very busy today.


HUNTER (voice-over): So, we take a closer look at one screen. WILDER: That looks like mold with dead skin.


HUNTER (on camera): And people's feet are in this?




HUNTER: Is that gross?


WILDER: That is terrible.


HUNTER (voice-over): But it isn't just one screen. According to our inspector, all three of the salon's foot spas show signs of serious neglect.


(on camera): Do you think this is as clean as it should be?








HUNTER: It's -- it's bad, isn't it?




HUNTER: It's gross, right?




HUNTER (voice-over): The following week, the salon was reinspected and the footbaths were clean.


(on camera): It takes about an hour to do a pedicure. But the numbers really add up for just one chair. You can do eight pedicures a day, 50 pedicures a week, around 200 pedicures a month in one chair. And, if it's not cleaned correctly, it's like sitting in the same bath as everyone before you.


CLARKE: It's gross. I would never do that. It -- it makes you feel gross, dirty and disgusting.


HUNTER (voice-over): This California salon, where more than 100 women were allegedly infected, settled, along with its insurance company and some of its suppliers, a lawsuit for nearly $3 million. Cases against five other salons are pending. Neither the salons, nor their lawyers, would agree to speak with us.


But the industry says the vast majority of millions of consumers who get pedicures every year are not at risk.


PAUL DYKSTRA, SENIOR DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL NAIL TECHNICIANS ASSOCIATION: The salon professionals with proper education will do what is necessary to make sure that this isn't a problem.


HUNTER: Paul Dykstra heads the International Nail Technicians Association, which has published guidelines, advising members to clean like this Chicago salon does, by scrubbing foot spa screens daily and disinfecting after every client.


But Dykstra believes it's up to consumer to ask questions.


DYKSTRA: If the salon professional, God forbid, is one that doesn't understand these procedures, they shouldn't get the service there.


HUNTER: So, we decided to find out what happens when consumers inquire about cleaning.


We asked Nancy King, a nationally known industry expert who trains nail professionals, to go into upscale salons in Houston wearing a hidden camera. Our expert finds one salon doing everything right, disinfecting after each pedicure.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have to, because there's water jets in there.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the germs get caught in the water jets.


HUNTER: At another salon, the receptionist says the right thing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After every client, they clean and disinfect.


HUNTER: But when King talks to the pedicure technician, she gets a different story.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If there's a salon out there saying that they're cleaning and, like, bleaching after every client, that's a lie, because they can't do it. I mean I have never seen anybody do that.


HUNTER: CNN asked the salon owner to comment. He never responded.


(on camera): You went to seven space shuttle. How many did you approve of?




HUNTER: What does that tell you?


KING: That there are a lot of people out there that need a lot more training.


HUNTER: These women know how important a safe pedicure is.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really, really sad that this -- a pedicure has changed my life like this.


HUNTER: They face a lifetime of scars they say may never heal. (END VIDEOTAPE)


ZAHN: So terrible. So, what are these individual states doing about this to protect all of us?


HUNTER: Well, let's start with California.


After all these outbreaks, California enacts a law which requires salons to properly clean these pedi-spas, these whirlpool spas. Now, after that -- this is the big problem -- every state has different laws. And some states don't have any laws at all.


I know what you're thinking. So, what do you do?


ZAHN: Exactly.


HUNTER: Well, here's what our expert says. Our...




ZAHN: You can read my mind, Greg.




HUNTER: Yes, I'm psychic.


Our expert says that here is what you should do to protect yourself when you get a pedicure. First of all, ask how the salon cleans the footbaths. The salon should tell you they use a hospital- grade, EPA-approved disinfectant, and they run a 10-minute cleaning cycle before each and every client. That means the footbath has to be going around.


If all they're doing is spraying some disinfectant spray on there, our experts say, not enough.


Second one, don't shave your legs at least 24 hours before you get a pedicure. Another expert told me at least two or three days. The reason, when you shave, you scrape off hair and some skin. And those abrasions leave you much more susceptible to getting an infection.


And, finally, ask the salon to take off that screen we showed you. Some of them looked clean. Some of them looked bad. Well, they should take it off every day, our experts say. And, if they won't take it off for you, or they can't take it off for you, our experts say, don't put your feet in the tub.


ZAHN: That's really good advice. The third one, I think, is the easiest of all those things to follow. Were -- were you surprised by what you found? You had heard some of these nightmare stories. But I -- I couldn't imagine a 600 -- $6.5 billion industry, that it would have been as frequent as you have just found out.


HUNTER: One of our victims summed it up the best. It's a life- changing event. You're a woman. You wear a dress. You look wonderful in a dress. Women look great in dresses.


These women cannot wear dresses anymore. That's what they think. They think their legs are so scarred that they're going to wear pants for the rest of their lives. Is it a life-changing event. And it shouldn't be.


ZAHN: Consumers, beware. Greg Hunter, thanks for bringing that to us.


Coming up, we change our focus quite a bit. Do you think that slavery went away in the 1800s? Well, think again.






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