In all the furor surrounding the nail salon story that the New York Times put out, which alleged that nail salon owners exploit and abuse workers, there was another issue that wasn’t given much press: the toxicity of nail salons.
This nugget was buried in the story:
“Big Job” employees are veterans, experts at sculpting false nails out of acrylic dust. It is the most lucrative salon job, yet many younger manicurists avoid it because of the specter of serious health issues, including miscarriages and cancer, associated with inhaling fumes and clouds of plastic particles.
Then, the NY Times dropped this bomb, toting up the alarming health consequences for employees of nail salons:
Similar stories of illness and tragedy abound at nail salons across the country, of children born slow or “special,” of miscarriages and cancers, of coughs that will not go away and painful skin afflictions. The stories have become so common that older manicurists warn women of child-bearing age away from the business, with its potent brew of polishes, solvents, hardeners and glues that nail workers handle daily.
A growing body of medical research shows a link between the chemicals that make nail and beauty products useful — the ingredients that make them chip-resistant and pliable, quick to dry and brightly colored, for example — and serious health problems.
You should really read the whole thing from top to bottom.
It’s been clear to me for years that nail salons are a hotbox for carcinogenic and toxic fumes from nail polish remover, nail polishes, and acrylic dust. Plus, the UV lights they use to dry your nails are also linked to cancer. Perhaps you and I don’t work there, but after knowing this information, it seems unconscionable to continue frequenting salons that subject their workers to such horrifying conditions. Not only do acrylic nails look trashy, they’re also cruel.
After this article came out, New York State included some provisions in its emergency measures to address toxins. Workers will have to wear respirators when sculpting acrylic nails, wear protective goggles when pouring nail polish remover from large tubs into small containers, and wear special gloves when applying conventional nail polish that contains dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde.
Such a cute little bandaid, right?
I’m not going to judge you for wanting a manicure every once in a while. I personally love manicures. They’re the only thing that keep me from ripping my nails to unsightly shreds. (Oh look, just caught myself doing it now.) So if you’re like me and need/want some professional love for your nails, here’s what you do:
Option 1: Look for a Non-Toxic Salon in Your Area
If you’re in California, you can try this website, though the requirements to become a clean salon are pretty minimal. You can try Yelp, searching for “non-toxic.” For New Yorkers, though, I got you:
Lower East Side | Speedy Manicure $15
This planted filled haven is a cozy respite from the gritty downtown scene.The warm wood furniture was created by Recycled Brooklyn, and the thicket of green foliage leaves the air smelling like … nothing, in fact. Which is so nice when most salons smell like cancer. In terms of polish, you’ll find Essie and Zoya, and can also request Jinsoon if you prefer. The best part of Hortus, though, is in their locally handmade lotions, oils, and cult favorite cuticle oil (in lieu of mineral oil, which is a petroleum product) all created especially for the salon by the friend of owner. When you’re done, you’ll get a few drying drops and put your hands under fans instead of the usual cancer-causing UV lamps.
Flatiron/Midtown | Signature Treatment $25
Opening in 2017, this midtown oasis carries just its own brand of 10-free, vegan nail polish in every color you could want. The design is all Danish/Scandinavian, with blonde wood, putty pink leather chaise chairs, and soothing indie music. There’s an upstairs balcony that you can rent out for private events that looks down over the stations, which come with venting systems to blow the smell away from your nose. Your manicure will come with housemade organic lotion, plus a soak in floral sea salt water.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn | Basic Manicure $18
This is my favorite non-toxic nail salon. Maybe just because it’s in my neighborhood in Williamsburg, but it embodies all the traits of my dream salon: fresh and airy, a wide array of non-toxic nail polishes, skilled employees, and pretty decor. Read my entire review of PH7.
SoHo, TriBeCa, Midtown | Quickie Manicure $15
Both a nail polish brand and a set of nail salons, this brand is NYC-chic. The SoHo location, which is the only one I’ve visited as of yet, has an outdoor patio for manicures en plein air, and carries both the house brand and other non-toxic polishes.
TriBeCa | Lavender Cream Manicure $26
This girly salon will make you feel like a pretty, pretty princess. It has nothing but non-toxic manicures and pedicures with Zoya nail polish while you relax in the shabby chic overstuffed chairs. Read my review of Sweet Lily Nail Spa.
Lower East Side | Full Manicure $20
Formerly named Sakura, this salon has a great reputation for lovely manicures and fantastic nail art. It offers a special all non-toxic manicure, including the products like lotion and nail polish remover. It specializes in Calgel, which is supposedly a much healthier alternative to acrylic that lets your nails breathe. I have been digging to find the ingredients in Calgel, but I have been unable to come up with anything concrete, beyond they don’t smell as bad, which may indicate fewer toxins, and they are a gel instead of plastic dust, the latter of which causes serious respiratory ailments when breathed in. Regardless, if you decide to go this route, bring sunscreen with you to apply to your hands before they put them under the UV light.
Option 2: Bring Your Own Products
If you’re located in a place where there are no non-toxic nail salons to be found, be a well-manicured rebel. Bring in your own non-toxic nail polish with you. If you’re a regular, ask them to order a couple colors to keep on the wall for you. Once you’re comfortable doing that, take it a step further – bring your own non-toxic nail polish remover. Skip the UV dryer at the end and listen to a podcast on your phone to pass the extra ten minutes.
OK, ready to really step it up? Request that your manicurist wear gloves and a mask during your session. And if they don’t have those in the salon and you want to start a revolution, explain that you can’t frequent a salon where workers’ health isn’t taken into consideration, that nail products can cause miscarriages, birth defects, respiratory problems, and even cancer. Leave your number and tell them to call you when they’re using masks and gloves.
Walk out like a ladyboss.