DENVER -- A Contact7 Investigation has uncovered Colorado nail salons operating illegally, without a license, and the state admits it has limited oversight unless consumers complain.
"They sit you in those nice vibrator chairs and you can really relax. They soak your feet and it's a really nice experience — or it should be, but it's not that way," said Sharon Edelen.
Edelen, 77, said she had a bad experience at the Da-Vi Nails in Monument located at 16218 Jackson Creek Pkwy. — one of the salons Contact7 Investigates found had been operating illegally.
"We started, and he cut my toe," she said. "I told him, 'Ouch, that hurt.' He didn't even acknowledge that."
The Da-Vi Nails is located inside a Walmart, which made Edelen think it would be safe.
But state records show when Edelen said the salon cut her toe during a pedicure six months ago, Da-Vi Nails in Monument was running an "unauthorized" and "unlawful" salon and had been for four years.
"Now that surprises me," said Edelen.
Records show the owner of Da-Vi Nails in Monument continued doing nails with an expired state registration — but with no consequences, until late last year.
"I can't understand why the state didn't catch them before," said Edelen.
Hidden camera video shows questionable practices
Contact7 Investigates sent a producer with a hidden camera inside the Monument nail salon, where questionable sanitary practices were uncovered.
As our producer was getting a pedicure, the nail tech was seen using what appears to be a dirty foot exfoliator, known as a pumice stone.
Under state law, pumice stones are required to be thrown away after one use because they are porous and hard to disinfect.
The video shows the nail tech wash the pumice stone and then place it back in a drawer, not in the trash.
When asked by Denver7's producer if the nail salon has ever had any issues or complaints with the state, another nail tech said "no."
But records show Da-Vi Nails in Monument has had complaints with the state and that Edelen, who did not formally file a complaint with the state, was not alone. According to discipline records filed with the state, another person filed a compliant in 2015, "alleging that they were harmed and cut during a pedicure service."
State regulators respond to what Contact7 Investigates uncovered
The Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) regulates Colorado nail salons.
Under Colorado law, nail salons are required to be registered with the state, and all employees who provide services are also required to have separate licenses for being a cosmetologist, manicurist, or nail technician.
"We do the best we can with the resources we have," said DORA's Jill Sarmo.
Sarmo said state regulators did a review in 2018 and found a problem with nail salons failing to properly register.
"There were a lot of nail salons that were not properly registered with us," she said.
Since the review two years ago, Sarmo said DORA launched an education campaign to help get businesses into compliance, which included a skilled immigrants licensing guide. That's also when DORA uncovered Da-Vi Nails in Monument was still operating and had ignored two cease-and-desist letters, one in 2017 and the other in 2019, both ordering the salon to shutdown operations.
"Somebody went out to that shop and basically said, either you get registered today or we will take further action to make sure that you can no longer operate," said Sarmo.
The salon is now operating with an active registration, but it carries conditions, and has been placed on a six-month probation period with required continued education.
"Why didn't DORA do something about this sooner?" Contact7 Investigates asked Sarmo.
"We're always identifying areas we can approve in. We appreciate when it's brought to our attention that, that might be a blind spot for us or an area that we're missing," responded Sarmo.
Sarmo also said DORA has limited oversight, under state law, when it comes to nail salons, and regulators can only do an inspection if a consumer files a complaint against a salon.
"So, we really rely heavily on the public," she said.
As for Contact7 Investigates' undercover video at the salon in Monument, Sarmo reviewed it and had similar concerns about how the nail tech handled the pumice stone.
"Now that you've showed us the video and you've made us aware of this issue, we will reach out to the shop owner, see what's actually going on and conduct a review," she said.
Another nail salon operating illegally in Broomfield
The nail salon in Monument wasn't the only one Contact7 Investigates found operating without a valid registration.
The same Denver7 producer went undercover at another Da-Vi Nails in Broomfield, located at 4651 W 121st Ave., with a different owner and which is also located inside a Walmart.
Records show this Da-Vi Nails salon in Broomfield had its registration expire with the state on Nov. 30, 2017.
But like other customers, Denver7's producer had no problem getting service at the salon more than two years after its state registration expired.
Shortly after that visit, Contact7 Investigates went to the salon to get answers from the manager.
Da-Vi Nails in Broomfield's manager couldn't answer our questions when we asked why the salon was operating illegally and without the required state registration. It appeared the manager may not have been aware the salon was required to have a separate registration on top of licenses for each employee working there.
DORA was also not aware the salon was operating with an expired registration.
"I don't know that that was on the radar of the division prior to you contacting us," said Sarmo.
"You're going to make this right?" Contact7 Investigates asked the manager of Da-Vi Nails in Broomfield.
"Yes, I will make it right," he responded.
Sarmo said the state plans to make sure that happens and the salon becomes registered.
"We've taken a number of steps to remedy what we saw was an issue. We have some work to go; there is still work to be done," said Sarmo.
What is Walmart's responsibility to ensure salons are operating legally?
"I really truly believe that Walmart is partly to blame for not watching," said Edelen.
A spokesperson for the superstore told us in a statement: "Walmart works with a number of independent service operators who provide services that are relevant for our customers. Our leases with these operators require them to comply with all applicable laws, which includes staying current on all required licenses. We’ve been in touch with Da Vi Nail Salons to ensure they’re maintaining such compliance."
"They've gotta be clean. We could get an infection and we could die from it," said Edelen.
Edelen's toe healed without an infection, but she knows what's at stake and wants to the state to do more to keep consumers safe.
"I just think they need to keep a closer eye on them," she said.
Tips for consumers to ensure a nail salon is safe
Consumers also have the right to ask a salon to see its state registration as well as the license of any employee who would be performing services on them.
DORA also allows consumers to search online by name to see if a nail technician or cosmetologist holds the proper license.
State law requires that the license be displayed for public viewing and consumers should see a license displayed on the wall or at individual work stations.
State regulations also require items such as paper nail files, orangewood sticks, pumice stones, or foam flip flops to be thrown away after one use. These items don't survive the cleaning and disinfection process and therefore must be thrown in the trash after one use.
DORA recommends if consumers see these items are used or dirty, that people ask for a new, clean item.
Lastly, DORA asks that any consumer who has a bad experience or finds a salon operating without the proper licenses to file a compliant with the state. This compliant will allow the state to inspect the salon and ensure compliance. Consumers can file a compliant online through DORA's website.