Nail Salons: The Dark Side of Beauty II

For those of you who read Grace Tepper's last article, nail salons may not seem as great as they did before. All the chemicals in nail polish can be extremely harmful to both customers and nail technicians (not to mention their extremely long hours breathing them all in), and while they are slowly being phased out of production, they’re still a big problem: How to fix it? Know your brands beforehand, and know what to spot in a nail salon that might suggest its workers aren’t being treated ethically. Here’s which polished to buy, and what to look out for.


  1. The Chemicals. While most companies have varying ingredients in their products, most have the same big chemicals in them. The most common ones are formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and toluene. Depending on exposure and chemical intensity, these can cause anything from slight irritations to serious respiratory and neurological illnesses. These three are the worst offenders (although there are plenty of others lying around), and are most often excluded from newer nail polish products. Since the industry now knows that these harmful chemicals can be absorbed into your body through the nail, more and more companies are taking a stand against them, which is a great thing! This is the one that fights the good fight the best.

  2. The Polish. Different polish brands nowadays have “3-free” products, which are made without the chemicals mentioned above. However, there are options that are 5-free, 7-free, and even 8-free for the same prices (or less!). Why not get the safest and healthiest product possible? My recommendation is Pacifica 7-free polish. Not only is it 7-free, but it’s also vegan and comes with a shiny, seashell-adorned vegan brush and cap as an added stylistic plus. But while there are lots of non-toxic products to choose from, this one takes the cake due to its price and range. Pacifica’s polish is just 9 USD, half the price of other non-toxic products on the market, and comes in more than 50 shades! Shimmery colors, smooth & shiny, you name it and they have it. Buy your favorite color(s) and bring them with you if your salon doesn’t offer safe products. You’ll already know it looks good, and you’ll be doing yourself and your nail technician a huge favor!

  3. Safe Salon Practices. There are a couple things to look out for when finding a salon that treats their workers well, which is especially important given how dangerous their environment can be. The first and easiest thing to do is read the reviews. Yelp is my go-to when finding a good salon, and the customers usually don’t lie. If it’s a bad business, you should find out pretty easily from there. If not, keep an eye out for other red flags when you walk in the door. How cheap are the prices? If the place offers some serious bargains, don’t get too excited; that comes at the expense of the underpaid and overworked technicians in that salon. When workers are treated well and given good pay, the price goes up and so does the salon quality. Going to a tad more upscale place means better nails for you and better conditions for workers. Another thing to keep an eye out for is salon hygiene. Do the tools and files look overused or unclean? Are the technicians not wearing masks? Irresponsible businesses don’t take the extra steps to protect their employees, so don’t buy into what they’re selling.

  4. It’s hard to part with my salon and my products. What do I do? For regular attendees, changing nail salons or products may seem inconvenient. But really it’s a small price to pay for helping change safety trends in an entire industry. The change starts with you, the customer, so it’s on you to hold businesses accountable and put your money where your mouth is. Reward good businesses and safe salons, so they can keep doing what they’re doing while other places adjust to safe standards. You’re helping yourself and others! As for your products, many commonly used products already removed some of the most harmful chemicals. Essie nail polish, one of my personal favorites, is a regular in the business and featured in many salons. It’s free of the big three!

Before your next visit, do your research. Make sure the companies and the products are holding up the right standards. At the end of the day, healthier habits create a happier habitat for everyone in your salon, so be a trendsetter and make sure that you pick this season’s color in at least a 3-free brand.