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Green Review: Sweet Lily Natural Nail Spa and Boutique

natural and green nail salon in NYC

The sustainable girl’s guilts are many. I count among mine eating Reese’s, forgetting to switch off the power cord in my room when I leave, and getting manicures and pedicures on a regular basis.

If you have any interest in avoiding cancer-causing toxins, you’ve probably heard this by now, but here it is again: professional manicures and pedicures are toxic. That mildly offensive and stinging odor when you walk in a salon is the smell of toluene, dibutyl pthalate and aluminum, which all accumulate in your body and share concerns like cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity,  organ system toxicity, and are considered occupational hazards for your poor manicurist who has to be around it all day. Finally, they stick you under those UV dryers which are also suspected to cause cancer.

Faced with these challenges, a girl like myself has three choices:

1. “Meh, such is the sacrifices I make for beauty.”

2. “No more manicures for me! This hippie is going natural!”

3. “I’ll find a non-toxic manicure.”

Choice number three is the road of most resistance. I’ve flirted with bringing my own nail polish and nail polish remover to salons, only to receive the put-upon sighs of the nail technician who has to scrub at my nails with my soy-based Priti nail polish remover. Plus, I don’t carry this stuff with my all the time, and as friends are always inviting me out on the fly for some primping, it’s a problem. Is there a salon I can go to who will embrace non-toxicity?

Perhaps the solution is Sweet Lily Natural Nail Spa, whose offer of a fall pedicure that includes hot cider with sliced apples and organic cranberry oil was enough to get me down to Soho to try it out.

My first visit was on Monday. It was mercifully free of the after-work crush, with low-key Christmas crooning issuing from hidden speakers that soothed me into a dreamy stupor. I sat myself down at a shabby chic farm table laid with a glass top to receive my manicure after choosing a shade from Zoya nail polish, which boasts that it is toluene-, formaldehyde-, pthalate-, and camphor-free and vegan.

Usually I jerk my hand away when a nail salon tries to squirt an anonymous lotion on my hand, but I allowed the technician to lovingly dab oil on my cuticles and, with the attention of a watchmaker, clean, primp, and prepare my nails. She soaked my fingers in hot lavender lotion, scrubbed my hand with sugar, and applied the rich fall red to my nails. She topped it off with a generic clear topcoat and escorted me to one of the overstuffed rose-toile couches to relax–no UV dryer in sight.

I was in a rush, so I paid my $25 (steep, but you get what you pay for, I guess), and ran out the door.

But I was back today. I tried to give myself a pedicure with the sparkly black Priti nail polish Liz gave me for my birthday (so I can bring it with my on our playdates, she adorably explained) and of course messed up my manicure.

I considered a pedicure, which is administered while you relax in an overstuffed armchair, but I passed. Who would see my toesies in this weather? Still, I paused as I paid to ask the receptionist some hard questions. Here’s the skinny:

  • The remover is non-acetone, though she couldn’t tell me anything more beyond that. They used to use soy-based removers, but received complaints about peeling.
  • The topcoat is formaldehyde and pthalate free, but not necessarily free of toluene. You can make a special request for the Zoya topcoat if you so desire.
  • Customers are, of course, more than welcome to bring in their own polishes and removers.

As far as waste, I understand the thought behind hermetically sealing all sterilized tools inside packages. Besides that, each manicure and pedicure produces one used paper towel, and cotton balls, which are pulled from a charming mason jar. All other tools and towels are reusable.

While I understand that a $25 manicure is not in everyone’s budget, I would absolutely recommend the Sweet Lily Natural Nail Spa for a manicure and pedicure when you need some nontoxic pampering.

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