The Dark Side of Getting Cheap Manicures

And how to avoid a potentially exploitative industry in Philly.

Why you might want to reconsider that $8 mani. | Shutterstock

Why you might want to reconsider that $8 mani. | Shutterstock

There’s a price to pay for polished nails. And if you’re paying less than $10.50 for your biweekly manicure, then you might want to consider switching salons. At least, that’s what the New York Times dug up in “The Price of Nice Nails”, its recent exposé  on the cheap nail salon industry in New York City. “With fees so low, someone must inevitably pay the price,” author Sarah Maslin Nir writes. Nir uncovered unfair wages, health hazards and deplorable business practices while interviewing dozens of nail technicians.

Here’s how to spot likely offenders:

“’You can be assured, if you go to a place with rock-bottom prices, that chances are the workers’ wages are being stolen,’ said Nicole Hallett, a lecturer at Yale Law School who has worked on wage theft cases in salons. ‘The costs are borne by the low-wage workers who are doing your nails.’”

Nir also disclosed the hierarchy amongst salon professionals, who despite trained, rake in subpar wages.

“’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. ‘Medium Job’ workers do regular manicures, while ‘Little Job’ is the category of the beginners. They launder hot hand towels and sweep toenail clippings. They do work others do not want to do, such as pedicures.'”

Sure, the story was detailing New York City salons, but we can’t help but be skeptical of manis that are so cheap they seem unsustainable. In response to the story, local nail salon Lacquer Lounge (we gave ’em Best of Philly for quickie mani last year) posted on Instagram:

Thank you @nytimes For exposing the harsh truths about the unacceptable conditions in which many who work in the nail industry are subjected to. Our philosophy at Lacquer Lounge has always been to set ourselves apart from the less than average nail salon by offering sanitary luxury services in a safe, clean, hygienic, and welcoming environment. We set out to change the industry standards in health, hygiene and business ethics when we opened our doors almost 3 years ago! You will never experience heavy fumes or harmful toxins while visiting any of our locations. That is the reason we DO NOT offer acrylic services! You will never have to worry about contracting infections and diseases since we do not use whirlpool tubs that harbor bacteria. We autoclave our implements in a high pressure steam unit, and all of our abrasives are one-time use. We practice good business ethics, and take pride in compensating our staff well above industry standards, providing them with health benefits and careers with opportunity for growth in a safe, healthy environment while we expand to other locations. Cheap, and unsanitary nail services should be banned! They contribute to unfair business practices where the clients and employees suffer. Everyone deserves better than that! #healthy #safe #ethical #practices #quality #luxury #clean #hygienic #services #lacquerlounge #prohealth #naillounge

A photo posted by Lacquer Lounge (@lacquerloungephilly) on

The takeaway: be mindful of where you decide to get your nails buffed and polished. If it seems too good (or cheap!) to be true, you might be aiding an industry that’s harmful and exploitative to its workers.