From the Forum – Ethical Mani/Pedi Options?

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Ethical Mani/Pedi Options?

“After reading the NYTimes articles on manicures/pedicures in NYC, I’m wondering if there is reasonably ethical option for manicures and pedicures here in DC. Some place that pays the technicians a legal wage? Makes arrangements to protect their health? OR someone who works independently? Obviously, I’m aware that this means paying more – significantly more, maybe – for an ethical option. Which is fine by me. Thanks.”

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32 Comment

  • I just went to Nail Saloon at 14th and P a couple weeks ago. Its definitely more expensive, but absolutely worth it.

  • I’ve been thinking about this too. And for now, I’ve decided to embrace the natural look. To be honest, I always hated how damaged my toenails were by a summer of polish.
    I realize this doesn’t answer your question, but I’m hoping to encourage others to join me in the just-formed NudieToes movement. It even has a cute and hashtaggable name, see?

    • SouthwestDC

      I’ve never had a mani or pedi in my life, and probably never will. I do, however, go to these places to get waxed. I’ve never had success doing the waxing at home, and don’t want to walk around with a moustache, so it’s something I can’t really avoid. So I’m glad this question is being asked.

      • recommendations for waxing: Nail Saloon (I’ve had good luck there), eyebrows, go to Flami at Fyubi. I say this over and over again. Bliss is very good. So is blue mercury.

        • SouthwestDC

          Thanks! There’s a Blue Mercury not too far from where I live. Never knew they did waxing.

      • Suzette at Fusion Day Spa is the best for waxing. I only trust her to do my eyebrows 🙂

      • If you can make the trip to Eastern Market, I highly recommend Nora at Native Beauty for waxing. She’s amazing – by the time you’re finish you’re laughing so hard you can’t even remember the pain you were just in.

        • +100. I love Nora. I’ve been going to her since 2007 for waxing and facials. And her new space Native Beauty with Eco friendly body and beauty products is great! I’ve been getting my nails done by Indigo Smith Makong (, who is located in the same building as Nora, for about the same amount of time. They are by appointment only ( And the services they provide are wonderful.

      • I go to Michelle at Aura Spa on U Street. She is great and reasonably priced, and frankly she does a better job than when I would pop into a nail salon. They also use much higher quality ingredients for their waxes (she uses several different kinds).

  • Elizabeth Arden-Red Door. Ethical, clean and the employees are HAPPY, trained and most stay for long periods due the benefits. Yeah, I talk to my techs during procedures.

  • That NYT piece was alarming to say the least, but from what I know, the NYC area definitely has more of those issues than DC. You should ask your manicurist. Regardless, can we have a thread of places to avoid? Because I know a few around here..

    • From the two NYT articles, it sounded as though NYC has a very high concentration of nail salons, and those nail salons offer services at rock-bottom prices (like $10 for a manicure). I think D.C.’s lower concentration of salons and higher prices probably help to some extent with that. Also, my impression (though it might be inaccurate) had been that most D.C.-area salons were owned and operated by Vietnamese immigrants, whereas apparently in NYC it’s Koreans who own the salons and get the best jobs, and Chinese and Latinas below that.
      However, I suspect that the health risks for employees — especially those working with acrylic nails — are the same anywhere.

      • agree about the health risks. Prob best thing you can do is avoid anything fake, and bring your own 5 free polish (i.e. zoya)

        • I think the NYT mentioned that NYC nail salon employees are often discouraged by management from wearing gloves to protect their skin from the solvents. So I suppose if you see a place where nail techs _do_ wear gloves, that would be a good thing.

  • Oriental Day Spa on Vermont just south of L ST NW pays their techs $900/week. Granted, they work more than 40 hours, probably close to 60, but that’s still ethical.

  • The New York Times had a follow-up article on how to be a socially conscious nail-salon customer:

  • I’m glad someone started this thread! In addition to fair labor practices, I’m especially concerned with the health effects of the industry. Does anyone know of places where technicians wear masks and gloves?

    • I’ve had a few gel manicures at Salon Balayage near Farragut North, and the tech there has always worn a mask and gloves. For waxing/facials, I recommend Vera’s Revival Oasis in Farragut West. The owner does all the work herself, and she is excellent at dealing with sensitive skin.

  • Not to be callous, but can’t you just paint your nails at home? In my experience, the majority of both men and women don’t notice a professional manicure anyway. This just seems like a total waste of discretionary money.

    • Blithe

      “Callus”? lol nice! You can paint your nails at home — although not as neatly, for most of us. But the cutting, callus removal, clearing away the gunk around the nails part goes better when it’s done by a professional. I’ve heard good things about Elizabeth Arden Red Door, as someone else mentioned above, and I would recommend the Aveda salon in Bethesda. The prices are higher — but that correlates with better protections for the employees.

    • I can’t paint my own toenails, no. Bad joints, not flexible enough. And my kids suck at it, so I’ve stopped asking them. >:(

    • Most of the time I do paint my nails at home, but for me, an occasional pedicure really gets off the dead skin under my foot that I have to spend a painstaking amount of time to do myself. The actual painting of the nails is almost an afterthought.

  • You’d have to have a really super ventilation system running to make these places safe for workers, in hair dying OR nail places. I can barely stand breathing in them for a short time to get a haircut, though I do. I tend to go for haircuts during off hours, when these places aren’t busy. But then, I’m sensitive to breathing noxious chemicals.

    I did get a weekly manicure in NYC for awhile, when I was trying to get myself to stop biting my nails (I bite them less if polished.) Job stress was making me bite while stressing unconsciously. It was at an established place in my neighborhood, and not dirt cheap (I was shocked when I started seeing these $10 ones – there is no way anyone is making a decent wage on that). I always did my own clipping and filing at home first, and I never wanted to get an infection, or have people poking at my sometimes nibbled-on cuticles, so I just had them apply polish. Like a haircut, I wasn’t there for long, though I hated the smell – gave me a headache. I was sloppier trying to do it myself, I’m not good doing things with my left hand. So it looked better and lasted longer if I had it done.

    Also, I had discovered that I would get a raging sinus infection if I did them at home – I started to realize it happened every time I applied polish at home. Something about those chemicals stayed inside my home and made me sick. I got tired of being sick to the point of having to take antibiotics. Once I made the connection, the few times I did them after that myself, I sat outside. No problem then. The chemicals just made my sinuses block off and get infected. After I made the connection for sure, I didn’t even want to expose myself to the slight sinus stuffiness I’d get from sitting in a salon long enough to get them polished. I suspect I’m not the only one who gets sinus infections from these chemical – though many, like me, probably don’t realize it for years, if ever. So, I can imagine what being around that all day working in a salon must do to workers – those chemicals truly are noxious!

    I eventually stopped going. They didn’t seem to treat the workers bad, but they did give them orders in an asian language, and I was uncomfortable not knowing what was being said to the person doing my nails. I suspected it was a bit of barking orders, or to hurry up. The workers who did my nails discouraged making conversation from me, and I suspect that was what they were told to do. While it wasn’t obviously bad treatment, the atmosphere just made me uncomfortable, something I didn’t want to participate in.

    I rarely paint my toenails, as I don’t really wear open toed shoes, but I can do them because I can do both feet with my right hand. But I haven’t done them in years. Or the nails on my hand, come to think of it. I’ve just gotten lazier, and hate having to take off and redo polish. I haven’t always lived in places where I felt comfortable doing them in shared outdoor space (I liked sitting on top of my high stoop, but not when I moved to place with a low stoop; didn’t want to do them outside at my later larger condo buildings, either.) I don’t think that without higher prices, massive ventilation systems, and use of respirators and lots of safety equipment, that these will ever be safe places for workers.

    I do hate the way polish seems to have become a necessity, something you supposedly don’t look well-groomed without. Like the growth of waxing, and hair dyes or highlights, it seems to me we have been moving in the wrong direction in recent decades in making women have to do more stuff to appear well-groomed. I’m not saying it isn’t fine if you like it, but it has gotten to the point where it seems obligatory – that’s what I don’t like. I used to do them for job interviews, because I felt like it was noticed it I didn’t, but I’ve even stopped doing that.

  • I am also glad to see this thread!
    I have been seeing Regina at Nusta Spa (20th between L & M St NW) for over 5 years. She is well paid, the spa is clean and she is an absolute joy to be around.

  • Red Door Chevy Chase may treat their employees ethically but they treat their customers like crap. This location has a real problem with scheduling and they won’t apologize for it. More than once I’ve shown up for my appointment and left with no services performed.

    Varnish Lane in Chevy Chase does waterless mani/pedis with all natural local products and all 5-free polishes in a ton of colors. They even have Bio Seaweed Gel. They don’t do any artificial nails. They also treat their employees ethically.

  • Kim at Last Tangle Salon (19&m) works independently, uses products free of the big 5 chemicals, carries Zoya polish, is responsible for great long-lasting mani pedis, has late hours, and is as sweet as sweet can be. My best friend has been going to her for 8 years and I have for a year.

  • I went to Nusta Spa this week for this exact reason. Basically you’re lying to yourself if you think any of the get em in get ’em out places staffed by a rotating crew of young women who don’t speak much english aren’t screwing their workers over somehow. And I lied to myself for a long time.

    So I’m now only going to places where the employees speak enough english to know their rights and they don’t use that toxic acrylic crap.

    Nusta spa was great for a pedi with Regina and a waxing with Carmen.

  • Try Roche Salon in the Washington Harbor complex (3000 K Street, NW). And Irma there does eyebrows really well, though I’ve never had any other service. Yes, expensive, but it’s nice.

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