No matter how much they care about their cuticles and callouses, most women don’t want to get mani/pedis at nail salons with subpar health and labor practices. But they largely fancied their feet and fingernails in the dark until a revealing two-part series in the New York Times shed light on widespread abominable conditions in nail salons. It linked nail products to breathing problems, skin disorders and miscarriages, and documented nail salon owners’ exploitation of workers. In response, the state of New York has mandated manicurists’ bill of rights be posted at nail salons that outline minimum-wage requirements and safety measures owners are obligated to follow. Letter grades have also been proposed as a way to signal to customers nail salons are clean.
Three years before New York wised up to the noxiousness of its nail salons, San Francisco was the first city in the nation to adopt legislation to establish a Healthy Nail Program that recognizes nail salons opting for safer nail products. The program defines those nail products as not containing the worrisome ingredients toluene, dibutyl phthalates, formaldehyde and methyl ethyl ketone. The program doesn’t stop at products. It directs salons to have proper ventilation, allow for its air quality to be monitored, stipulate its manicurists wear rubber gloves and commit to more benign artificial nail procedures. Other jurisdictions, including Alameda County and Santa Monica, have joined San Francisco in promoting healthier nail salon environments, and it’s likely they will have company soon.
The number of nail salons signed up, however, remains a small fraction of the total nail salon population. About 10 percent of San Francisco’s 250 nail salons, which employ 2,200 nail technicians, have been certified as healthy nail salons under the Healthy Nail Program. Zaza Nails is one of the nail salons that did so, and owner Rachel Cheng chatted with us about her experience getting her salon healthy. Contacted last year about the program, she says it was a no-brainer to take part. “Our original concept is to be healthy. We can’t make everything organic, but we want to be as natural as possible. We don’t do acrylics or anything artificial. We only work on natural nails, and we have strived to have all of our polishes toluene, dibutyl phthalates and formaldehyde free,” Cheng emphasizes.
To be officially certified under the Healthy Nail Program, Cheng and her employees underwent a training to educate them about sound nail salon habits and the ingredients found in nail products. In addition, Cheng had to thoroughly vet the products used by Zaza to verify they don’t have the ingredients the program seeks to excise from salons. As a result, she switched out Seche Vite, a top coat with methyl ethyl ketone, for Poshe. Overall, though, Cheng found the Healthy Nail Program process rather painless. She outlined the salon had already been adhering to high standards, and didn’t have to change much. “We have never had any health problems. We have an endless supply of gloves. All the tools are disposable. We have a pretty huge break room, which everybody is surprised by and our employees love. When we first started, we adjusted a lot of our chairs to make them ergonomic. We even have masks for when someone feels they have a cough,” says Cheng.
For its efforts to be healthy, Zaza was awarded a plaque and a decal from the Healthy Nail Program it now displays on the window. This past month, Cheng says customers have patronized Zaza specifically because it has been deemed healthy. “It has made a pretty big difference,” she says. If a fellow salon owner asked Cheng if they should participate in the program, Cheng would respond: “Oh, yeah!” She explains, “Everybody is trying to be more conscious and healthy. These products aren’t edible, but you are consuming them through your nose and they surround you. So, anything to lessen the blow always helps.” No one should have to suffer for summer mani/pedis. If you happen to be looking for suggestions for what to pair with your flip-flops, Cheng suggests pops of color from Essie’s new neon collection. Getting those guilt-free certainly brightens up our day.