I’m just old enough to remember a time before manicures were commonplace. When I was growing up, manicures were for the fancy or for special occasions. Now, many of my friends have weekly nail appointments. I live in a part of Chicago where there’s a nail salon almost every three blocks – and when a new one opens, I’m always surprised like “ANOTHER nail salon??” And then their chairs will be full and I get why they opened. Hey, I made plans to get my first summer pedicure this week and I can’t wait. I LOVE getting my nails done. I love the pampering, the process of choosing the hottest color and discussing my nail art options. I love how soft my feet feel after. I love the feeling of sisterhood and celebrating femininity when I go with my girlfriends to get our nails done together.
I’ve been beauty blogging for 9 years this year, and before that I wrote an award-winning spa review column for the Miami New Times called Patrice’s Pretty in the City. Trust and believe, I’ve been to all kinds of spas. Fancy hotel spas and strip mall day spas. I’ve had wonderful services and I’ve experienced terrible treatments, all in the name of beauty reporting. Now I’m not as much of a beauty blogging guinea pig, I try to get certain kinds of treatments at quality establishments. And from here on out, I’m going to be even more cautious with where and how I spend my money. Sarah Maslin Nir’s New York Times expose blew the cover off a really ugly side of the industry. If you haven’t read her articles, here you go:
Part 1 – The Price of Nice Nails goes into depth about the humiliating, demeaning practices that are commonplace in the cheaper parts of the nail salon industry. The lack of payment, the complete control by the salon owners.
Part 2 – Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers is about the chemicals used in nail salons (take for example, the materials used for acrylic nails), and the terrible effects they have on these workers. We’re talking pregnancy complications, respiratory issues, nosebleeds and coughs and even worse in the long term. “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.”
I’m not OK with that. I can’t be OK with that. None of us should be. We’ve gotta do better. The nail salon industry has to do better, and we as consumers need to do better. Change has begun. According to this Reuters report, “Nail salons in New York told to respect workers or face closure,” Andrew Cuomo is not here for the exploitation and he’s combating the issue with legislation and education.
“”The rights of nail salon employees must be respected and we are launching an aggressive crackdown on the industry to make sure that happens.”
The multi-pronged, legislative package gives New York’s state department, which regulates the nail salon industry, the power to punish businesses that flout the law by shutting them down or impose heftier fines.
On the health front, it mandates adequate ventilation as well as sufficient supplies of masks, gloves and eye protection when employees are dealing with potentially hazardous chemicals.
The package addresses the issue of unlicensed manicurists by trying to make licenses more accessible for immigrant nail salon workers by offering guidelines in more languages including Nepali and Tibetan. License exams will be administered in additional languages and workers will also be offered free training materials on the state department’s website and expanded free English classes.
One change that went into immediate effect requires that every salon has an insurance policy or bond that covers business liabilities, especially in the event that owners are found not to have paid workers. Previously if an owner was found to have violated the wage law they could sell their assets and claim an inability to pay. The insurance rule is intended to end that practice.
A workers’ bill of rights, explaining their right to a minimum wage no matter their immigration status, must be posted in every salon.”
Change continues to come, but we as consumers also need to be informed and aware, so we can make ethical choices to support businesses that are doing right by their staff and by their customers. I reached out to Tricia Lee, owner of Polish Bar of Brooklyn – as Tribe Called Curl calls her, a nail salon owner with integrity. Tricia Lee’s been in this business for a minute and she’s seen it all, from the exploited workers suffering with respiratory issues and skin infections who are working at these unethical nail spots until 11 pm every night, to the customers who come to her salon and cuss out her employees because their prices are higher or they don’t offer services that would be toxic to the staff (it’s happened). I reached out to Tricia because we as customers and clients need to know what to look for.
Here’s how you can spot a nail salon operating with poor business practices and labor policies:
– Salon hours. Most salons do not have a split shift. It’s just not common in our industry. So if a salon operates 11-12 hours, and has really low prices, you can bet your $7 manicure that the workers are putting in those unfair hours.
– Pricing. No service in the USA that takes close to 30 minutes can cost $7-10. With minimum wage in NYC $8.75, you have to allow near $12/hour to really cover payroll expenses, (remember we pay a portion of employee payroll taxes, unemployment, disability and workers comp, or at least we legally are required to). Given that, no business is providing a $7 manicure. This is only possible when there is no payroll. I have manicures at Polish Bar ranging $13-18. Manicures have my lowest profit margin. My better business sense would cut them out of the service menu completely, if that was an option. Manicures should cost well over $10 and pedicures over $20 each. When you patronize a business with this pricing model, the differences will be drastic.
-The real cuts. In addition to cuts on payroll, there are cuts that also affect you, the consumer. That’s where hygiene practices come into play. Do you receive service tools? The Polish Pack at Polish Bar Brooklyn includes your nail file, nail buffer and cuticle stick. All items are used during the manicure service. These items are pores and transfer skin cells, bacteria and dirt from person to person. These salons will share these tools between 30 or more clients.
-Comfort and ambience. I’ve been inside of salons in the winter operating with little or no heat. This cheap pricing model doesn’t afford basic comforts. I’ve seen employees wearing jackets while performing services. A proper business will haves comfortable and clean work space. Employees should wear a type of uniform. Cleanliness and comfort is the first to go, when offering cheap luxuries.
So now that we KNOW what to look for and what to expect from a less than professional establishment, let’s talk about ourselves as consumers. Because when I was talking to Tricia Lee, I kept thinking about things I’ve done as a customer that weren’t considerate of the nail tech.
Think about it. You walk into a nail salon, you pick your color, you slide into the chair. How much do you chat with the nail tech? Or are you using one hand to scroll on your phone as she does the best she can to paint the other hand? When you get a pedicure, are you completely ignoring the person at your feet? For me, my for sure nail salon fails that I regret is not tipping in CASH – I didn’t realize that tips on a credit card may not make it to the person the tip was intended for. SO.
Here are some nail salon do’s and don’ts for us as consumers.
DO know the price of your nail service before even sitting in the chair and be realistic about how much a manicure and pedicure should cost. This can avoid frustration or anger later. Visit their website, call ahead, or just ask for a menu when you enter so you’re aware of the costs up front. And bear in mind, the cheaper the service, the more likely it is that corners are being cut somewhere else.
DO bring cash with you, enough for a generous tip. You can pay for your service with a credit card, but tip your nail tech in cash.
DON’T walk into a salon or spa an hour or less before they close and demand or expect a service. Most nail services take an hour including drying time, and unscrupulous employers will force exploited workers to stay longer than they’re supposed to. Showing up and being demanding at the end of what is most likely a long work day for these employees isn’t in your best interest as a customer anyway.
DO make eye contact and conversation with your nail tech. They’re people, not robots. I’ve seen so many instances of customers ignoring nail techs or getting mad about nail techs speaking to each other in their native languages. Getting mad because the nail tech needs to eat or go to the bathroom. Please recognize that these are real human beings and think about the job they’re doing – scrubbing your feet and painting your nails. It’s a luxury. Don’t be rude, dismissive and entitled. Be kind and friendly in these moments. You’d be making a difficult job a little easier for someone.
DO wean yourself away from toxic nail treatments. If your nail tech needs a medical mask on to protect herself from the fumes, ask yourself – is this a nail service that’s healthy and necessary all the time? Many of the best nail salons are offering cleaner, greener services and polish brands. As detailed in Tricia Lee’s ESSENCE interview, “many polishes are 3Free and 5Free, look for these brands and salons that carry them. 3Free brands include Essie, OPI, Urban Outfitters; 5Free are Zoya, Deborah Lippmann, Ginger & Liz and OCC.” You can ask for a green menu, or service options with lower toxins. That’s better for you AND your nail salon friends.
Those are some tips on nail salon practices, ethics, and how you can get the BEST manicure in every way possible. What are your tips? What are your experiences and opinions? Nail professionals, I want to hear from you!