Ensuring Safety and Hygiene in the Cosmetology Industry

The EPA Cosmetology Definition

Cosmetology is the practice of cleansing, stimulating, manipulating, exercising and beautifying the skin and its appendages. This includes massage, manicures and pedicures as well as hair styling.

Most state cosmetology and barber boards require that facilities follow infection control standards. This keeps clients and employees safe from disease and infection. It also helps you avoid a health inspection violation.

Education and Training

Cosmetology is a hands-on career that requires strong interpersonal skills and self-management. You learn by listening to instructors and practicing your skills on a variety of models. You must follow specific rules and procedures set forth by state cosmetology and massage boards, which may include disinfection and infection control.

Most states require cosmetology and massage schools to use an EPA-registered disinfectant that has been proven effective against viruses, bacteria, fungi, and tuberculosis (TB). The school should also keep records of all training programs.

Regulatory agencies also collaborate to ensure consistent enforcement of cosmetology and massage regulations. Cross-training is provided when appropriate to enable EPA and OSHA inspectors to share inspection skills.

EPA scientists are conducting studies to help reduce chemical exposures that can harm nail salon workers. Through the Regional Applied Research Effort, a partnership program that unites Agency scientists with local colleagues and groups to target high-priority science needs, they are working with city officials and health specialists in San Francisco on the Healthy Nail Salon Recognition Program.


In a salon that carries a license to practice cosmetology or barbering and/or electrology, clients are eligible to receive services that include but are not limited to embellishing, dressing, curling, washing, cleansing, beautifying, cutting, singingeing, bleaching, coloring or performing similar work on the scalp, neck, head, shoulders, arms, hands, face, bust, and upper part of the body, manicures and pedicures on the nails and/or skin. In addition to a cosmetology, barbering or nail technician licensing program, State and Federal Agencies set guidelines for manufacturing, sale and use of equipment and chemical ingredients, as well as for safety in the workplace.

All implements, tools or utensils that come into contact with blood must be kept in a sterile solution or 70 percent alcohol. Powder puffs, sponges, styptic pencils, lump alum and any other equipment or implement that cannot be sanitized and disinfected may not be used on more than one client. The heads of facial chairs, footrests and manicure benches shall be covered with a clean, unused cloth towel or disposable paper towel before each new patron enters.


Cosmetology equipment must be sanitized and disinfected between each patron. All salons must be equipped with wet sanitizers containing hospital level or EPA approved disinfectant, large enough to allow articles to be fully immersed, and have a cover.

Salons must also have a tub used to hold water for pedicures that is drained and flushed between each client. Pedicure equipment includes nail filing instruments, metal foot baths and basins; plastic or wood foot spas; brushes, polyethylene granular scrubbers; loofah or textured sponges and gommage instruments.

Salons must use an EPA-registered fungicidal, bactericidal and virucidal disinfectant such as BactroKill C3. This product kills germs on contact and meets all state infection control regulations. The product is available in liquid form to disinfect non-electrical tools, and spray or wipe form to disinfect shears and electrical equipment. Salons must keep records of when equipment is cleaned and sanitized. Salons should also have Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on all products used in the salon. These sheets describe the chemical ingredients, hazards and precautions for use and handling.

Infection Control

Infection control is one of the most important tasks a cosmetologist or esthetician can perform. Just like a doctor’s office, your work station and tools can carry bacteria that can cause infections. Proper cleaning and disinfecting minimizes these risks.

Most state cosmetology boards have written regulations and guidelines that include infection control procedures. You must learn these to ensure you are compliant when a health inspector visits, but they are also vital for keeping your clients and colleagues safe.

Liquid disinfectants are the best method of cleaning salon surfaces, such as countertops. Antiseptic solutions, such as rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, are less effective but are safer to use directly on the skin.

Some states require that you clean and disinfect all tools between clients using an EPA-registered disinfectant solution or an autoclave, which sterilizes tools by immersing them in high pressure saturated steam. You must also keep an inventory of all cleaned and disinfected tools so you can quickly locate them when needed.

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