Our society is finally starting to embrace the idea that self-care is not selfish; it is absolutely necessary to live a happy and healthy life. The ultimate in pampering for me?
A massage, followed by a mani/pedi.
Not only is the experience itself thoroughly enjoyable with self-care written all over it, but you also get to leave with pretty nails. Win/win, right?
Not so fast.
There’s some things you should know about the typical nail salon and why I stopped going years ago (and why you should too!).
As much as we may not enjoy thinking about it (trust me, I get it!), this is really important
What you may consider to be a beautiful moment of self-care can actually expose you to an alarming number of chemicals and toxins that damage your health.
So let’s take a deep dive into the dangers of conventional nail salons and nail polishes.
Here’s a note of forewarning: You will read about some scary chemicals that are prevalent in most every nail salon. You may be tempted to brush it off and say, “It’s not all that bad.”
But if you want to live a life of vibrant health and high performance, where you can still enjoy getting pampered please take heed and pay attention to what is shared here.
I won’t leave you in the muck. We are also going to learn about what to look for in organic nail salons and non-toxic polishes.
Think of this as self-care with an extra dose of care.
Hello Toxic Chemicals!
Have you ever walked into a nail salon that smelled more like a chemical plant than a relaxing spa? I know I’m not the only one!
That’s because you basically did walk into a chemical plant.
Nail salons are a haven for toxic chemicals.
You’ve got the nail polish, the polish remover, cuticle creams/softeners, scrubs, lotions, and a plethora of cleaning supplies swarming around in one small space.
And do not think high-end necessarily means toxin-free. Toxins are equal opportunity offenders.
They may say beauty is pain, but beauty shouldn’t be illness. It shouldn’t be cancer.
It shouldn’t be dangerous to our reproductive systems. But science has showed us quite clearly that chemicals like formaldehyde, DBP (dibutyl phthalate) and Toulene can do just that. Here’s some quick facts:
- In the nail industry 10,000 different chemicals are used and 89% have never been properly tested for safety (1).
- According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Report on Carcinogens, “Formaldehyde is known to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in humans…” (2)
- DBP has been reported to cause severe birth defects in animals and is a hormone disrupter (3)
Bye-Bye Toxic Chemicals!
Fortunately, some brilliant brands decided to be innovative and come up with formulas without the big health no-nos.
And lucky for us – many nail salons are beginning to recognize that using safer products during their services is the right thing to do.
That means that it’s getting easier and easier to find organic nails salons which is exactly what we want!
I am going to introduce you to products that are game changers, like:
- Nail Polish sans the bad chemicals (You may have already heard of 5-free or 7-free polishes…I will show you what that really means.)
- Nail remover sans the acetone
Then I’m going to share the details on toxin-free sanitation, whether or not organic nail salons are truly organic, where to go, and what safe polishes to buy for DIY nails.
3-free, 5-free, 7-free, 9-free: Nail Polish Buzzwords Decoded
Typical nail polishes are chalk full of toxic chemicals that are connected to serious health issues like hormone disruption and cancer.
Below you will find some chemicals that conscious nail polish brands are starting to remove (which means plenty of brands still have them…eek!), why they are so dangerous, and the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) (4) toxicity score – for reference.
1 is fabulous and 10 is flat-out hazardous.
You may be shocked at what has been hiding in that glam polish all along.
Let’s start with 3-free nail polishes. These brands removed the top three toxic biggies:
- Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) is linked to endocrine system disruption, organ toxicity, and allergies. It could also cause infertility and birth defects with prenatal exposure. EWG score: 10.
- Formaldehyde – you know, that chemical used to embalm dead bodies – has a high cancer concern and is linked to allergies and organ toxicity. EWG score: 10.
- Toluene is supposed to be paint thinner. Aside from asthma, potential kidney issues, and digestive system toxicity, toluene has been connected to lymphoma and fetal development damage. EWG score: 10.
On top of that toxic trio, 5-free, 7-free, 8-free, 9-free, or 10-free nail polishes toss out some or all of the following ingredients:
- Formaldehyde Resin is, as the name suggests, a derivative of formaldehyde. Though it is not as dangerous as its namesake, it can cause allergy issues for many people. EWG score: 4.
- Camphor is not generally considered a super toxic ingredient; however, there have been documented cases (5) of camphor poisoning leading to seizures in small children. EWG score: 2.
- TPHP helps create that plastic quality of polish. It has been shown to have reproductive toxicity as well as general hormone disruption. EWG score: 5.
- Ethyl Tosylamide is another type of plasticizer that has been found unsafe in European countries. EWG score: 3.
- Xylene is normally used for fragrance or masking bad smells, but it is connected with multiple organ toxicity as well as nervous system issues. EWG score: 8.
- Parabens is the group name for various preservatives; some are benign and some are toxic. Parabens are also linked to hormone disruption. EWG score: varies between 1 and 7.
- Lead is already known as a huge health issue. It can cause cancer and reproductive toxicity….but it’s still found in products we use everyday…like nail polish. EWG score: 10.
I have a list of brands that I love toward the end of the article.
To Acetone Or Not To Acetone?
We already have the blessed news that nail polish does not have to be a health nightmare. Check that worry off the list.
But what about the polish remover?
Acetone is not the worst chemical you can find at nail salon… not by far. In fact, the Environmental Working Group gives it a 3, for moderate hazard.
But many of us probably already know acetone can be extremely drying to the nail and the surrounding skin.
Outside of being an irritant, there is some evidence of toxicity to the nervous system – not to mention there are occupational hazards for the nail techs.
If we are serious about beautiful bodies being healthy bodies, why not take advantage of a safe alternative?
Choose organic nail salons with non-acetone removers (many are choosing soy-based options).
Is This Place Sanitary?
Feet and hands are not necessarily the epitome of germ-free cleanliness.
And when you have one foot after another soaking in the same tub, germs, fungus, and viruses become a real issue.
Nail salons have to take cleanliness and sanitation quite seriously.
So some of them use harsh chemical cleaners that can end up in the air, in the water, and on the tools touching your body.
An organic nail salon experience should be taking sanitation just as seriously, but choosing to use safe cleaning ingredients instead.
Here are a few steps you can take to ensure your organic nail salon is pampering you in a safe, sanitized, and non-toxic environment.
Call ahead and ask the staff what their cleaning practices are. Do not be afraid to inquire about specifics. Do they steam clean? Do they use chemical cleaners? If so, what chemicals? Chances are organic nail salons will take pride in these answers, so ask away!
Have a Look Around
Now is the time to be nosy. It’s even the time to be a little judgmental when it comes to housekeeping skills. Your nail salon should be clean. The floors, the bathrooms, the chairs…even the staff. If they do not put pride in keeping their salon clean, be concerned.
Say no to the whirlpool
I know, I know. Nothing says “Ahh…relaxation!” like a good soak in a bubbling footbath. But nothing says fungus and fungus like a bubbling footbath either (gross as it is to say). Those jets can be a safe refuge for all sorts of junk you do not want touching your feet.
This is why I choose to go to a place that uses stainless steel basins (jet-free!) so that I can still soak my feet without exposure to all that nasty fungus.
Pay attention to the tools
Listen up: it is not high-maintenance or catty for you to get up in the nail salon’s business to see how they clean their tools. It’s smart. Make sure all metal tools are sanitized, and then make sure any non-metal tool is a one-time use operation. Better yet – choose organic nail salons that allow you to take the tools home with you.
Be Leary of New Treatments
The beauty industry is constantly coming up with new ways for women to improve the results of their beauty regimen. I once made the mistake of agreeing to a new type of nail treatment that smelled horrible on application (I could tell there were tons of chemicals used in the process) and in the end I was also not happy with the result. These days I stick to more traditional mani/pedis and use non-toxic polishes. The look is consistent each time and I don’t have to breathe in loads of toxic fumes.
When in Doubt, Go to the Spa
In my experience, spas are a much safer bet when it comes to lowering exposure to toxins. I don’t mean to be a hater, but the salons that offer $50/$60 mani/pedi combos are often some of the worst when it comes to fumes and chemicals used (though this isn’t always) the case.
Personally, I’d rather treat myself to a truly relaxing experience that’s low on the chemicals. That’s why I go to the spa. They usually have more natural/organic product selections and there’s a special attention to detail for creating a relaxing environment.
Are Organic Nail Salons Really Organic?
So here’s the deal: after all this talk about organic nail salons, no nail salon can ever be truly 100% organic.
We now know that some polishes have ditched the most toxic ingredients (hallelujah!), but the remaining ingredients do not allow for a true “organic” label.
So what gives?
When I talk about organic nail salons – or when you find a salon using “organic” in their marketing – think of it as doing the very best we can with what we are dealing with.
When I think of organic nail salons I think of a place that has a high level of commitment to choosing the best natural products available for nail services.
If you want a fully “organic” experience, you will honestly have to banish nail polish from here on out.
But that does not mean you cannot have a nearly organic experience that includes non-toxic polishes, acetone-free polish removers, eco-friendly sanitization, and organic lotions and scrubs.
These salons take every precaution to give you that safe self-care experience.
Organic Nail Salons In Your City
By now, you have graduated from “non-toxic nails 101” with honors. You know what you need to stay healthy and beautiful, and now you just need to know where to go
Here is a mini-guide to help you find organic nail salons near you.
New York City
- Hortus Nailworks: 3-free & 5-free polishes, toxin-free soy-based polish remover, organic olive oil based products
- Sundays: Non-toxic, vegan, and cruelty-free products and services
- PH7: Eco-friendly, non-toxic 3-free & 5-free polishes, non-acetone polish remover, organic essential oils for cuticles, plus organic herbal tea for ultimate relaxation
- Sugarcoat Nails: Not only is this a fabulous non-toxic environment, they allow you to keep all the tools they used during your service
- The Woodhouse Day Spa: Essential oils and organic products will make this experience as luxurious as it is safe
- Luv Nail Shop: Local, non-toxic products, vegan and 5-free nail polish, and essential oils for ultimate self-care
- Gloss Naturals: Natural, non-toxic, biodegradable products and polishes free from preservatives – including soy-based polish removers.
- Côte: This organic nail salon has their own line of 10-free nail polish, products include natural ingredients like organic Argan oil
- The Room Organic Spa: Organic, safe products, plus all tools are given to you at the end of the treatment
- Color Me Green: Eco-conscious nail boutique free of the harmful chemicals; uses “green” sanitation practices.
- Alma Natural Spa: Non-toxic polishes, even their hand wax is an organic mix instead of petroleum-based paraffin
- Thair Hair Boutique and Spa: Organic and natural salon and boutique offering spa service and hair treatments using eco-friendly and green beauty products that are free from some of the most harmful chemicals and toxins.
- Pink Pedi Salon: 400 polishes to choose from in an “eco-friendly, fume and toxin-free environment”
If you are not in a major city, feel empowered to do your own research. Call, check out websites, be an expert Google sleuth, read Yelp reviews, or even take a little tour before you book your appointment.
Great Non-Toxic Nail Polish Brands For Home
Perhaps you want to skip organic nail salons altogether and have an in-home spa date. You are going to need some non-toxic polish.
If you are anything like me, you want to have your cake and eat it too. In the world of nail polish, this means you do not want to expose yourself to harmful toxins, but you also want lovely nail polish in lots of pretty shades.
Luckily for us, there are a handful of brands offering just that. Here are a few of my favorites:
This high-end, eco-friendly nail polish line is 7-free, vegan, and cruelty-free (even certified by PETA!). If you fall in love with the nail lacquer, you may be just as delighted as I am that they have a safe nail polish remover using soy and essential oils to remove polish. Color Shown: Ella’s Pick
We could give Butter London a round of applause for offering an 8-free nail lacquer. But they go even further by adding horsetail extract and a bunch of great vitamins to their formula. These highly pigmented shades are glossy, chip resistant, and quick to dry. Color Shown: Molly Coddled
Pacifica has a great go-to reputation for safe products you can easily fall in love with. Not only does Pacifica have a beautiful variety of lovely nail polish colors, but they are also all 7-free, vegan, and cruelty-free. That includes their 7-free top and base coats too. Color Shown: Tangerine Speedo
This last brand considers themselves 10-free without fragrances or animal ingredients. But removing all those ingredients does not take away from a gorgeous array of colors –from soft pinks and gentle neutrals to blues and glitter. Color Shown: Tomato
Enjoying An Organic Nail Salon Experience
I hope this article brings you awareness and hope. Sometimes learning the truth behind things we thought were great – like getting a conventional mani/pedi – can be a real downer.
But the fabulous news is plenty of eco-conscious, health-minded brands and businesses have made nail beauty something you can enjoy without tossing out this new awareness of the chemical dangers.
So you go ahead and get that self-care experience, just do it without the scary toxins at an organic nail salon!
Now it is your turn to teach me. Have you found a fabulous organic nail salon near you? Or are you in love with a 5-free, 7-free, or 9-free nail polish brand? Let me and our community know in the comments below!
1- Toxic Beauty, by Samuel Epstein, M.D.
2- Report on Carcinogens, 14th Ed., Department of Health and Human Services
3- Our Toxic World, by Doris Rapp, M.D.