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Where to Get an Ethical Manicure: The NYC Salons You Can Trust

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Driely S.
Driely S.

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In the wake of the New York Times's exposé on nail salons, readers have been left to wonder where they can go for an ethical manicure. Racked has been reaching out to several salons in the city to ask about their policies regarding worker compensation, training policies, and safety in an effort to put together a comprehensive list, in alphabetical order. What's listed below is by no means exhaustive, but we plan to keep adding as we hear back from more salons.

Know about a salon that should be included? Email us at

Name: Paintbox

Address: 17 Crosby St, Soho

Prices: A single-color manicure is $35 with polish or $50 with gel; a nail design is $55 with polish or $65 with gel.

Salon owner Eleanor Langston released this statement on Paintbox's blog this morning in response to NYT's article, detailing that their "manicurists are among the most (if not the most) highly compensated in the country" when compared to wages paid in both nail salons and other beauty businesses nationwide.

Langston further stated to Racked that their entry-level salary is about "20 to 30 percent higher than companies that would be considered Paintbox's relative peers in beauty," which is what employees earn during the weeks or months of training they undergo before taking on clients. When factoring in tips, which comes to about $13 per hour with their popular $65 gel design service, Langston said that employees are earning "several multiples of the minimum wage" in New York State for each hour they are on the clock.

Paintbox includes a selection of 3-free and 5-free polishes among its bottles and employs a custom-designed HVAC system that "constantly recirculates fresh air into our studio" throughout the day. The salon uses a dry-heat sterilization system that Langston —who is nearly eight months pregnant and a daily presence in the salon—confirms is hospital-grade and clean every tool used prior to a service.

Name: PH7 Nail Couture

Address: 227 Grand St, Williamsburg

Prices: An "essential basic manicure" is $18 and an "essential basic pedicure" is $30. A Calgel manicure is $45, while a pedicure is $55. Nail art starts at $10.

Salon co-owner Ai Ke says that nail technicians receive a base pay of $75 to $95 per day, not including tips. She also assured that tips paid via credit card are not deducted by processing fees. Further, Ke emphasized the non-toxic nature that the salon was founded upon: All polishes used here are 3-free or 5-free; the nail polish remover does not contain acetone, and hand and foot care products are made with all-natural ingredients. "Our main focus is on creating a safe environment for our customers as well as for our employees," Ke said.

Name: Primp & Polish

Address: The mini-chain has four locations among Williamsburg and Greenpoint

Prices: A classic manicure starts at $15, and a classic pedicure starts at $27. For gel, manicures start at $35 and pedicures start at $55. Nail art begins at $10.

According to Lauren Bui, a managing partner at Primp & Polish, all employees receive a starting salary that's above the state's minimum wage, and "the majority of our staff is [paid] well above these levels," she wrote in an e-mail to Racked. The brand keeps two "dedicated training managers" on staff to work with new employees at no charge to them, as well as to work on "core skills" with the rest of their nail technicians. On top of salaries, the tips each employee can earn daily ranges "from $40 on a slow day to $150+ on busier days," which can average out to a manicurist earning at least $14 per hour.  Added benefits like paid sick leave and vacation days are also included.

Primp & Polish uses single-use files and buffers for each service, and sterilizes its tools with a hospital-grade autoclave machine. The staff uses disposable gloves for each service, and face masks are provided as well. The salons do not offer acrylic nails and include a selection of 5-free polishes in its offerings (Bui said that they're working to develop their own brand of 5-free polish, too). Each location is also equipped with a ventilation system that circulates fresh air.

"We strongly believe in treating our staff the way we ourselves would want to be treated," Bui added. "We love hosting holiday parties, staff dinners, store vs. store prize competitions, and more to keep things lively. Happy employees are at the core of great customer service, which is part of the foundation our business is built on."

Name: Valley Nails

Address: 198 Elizabeth St, Nolita; and 237 W 15th St, Chelsea

Prices: The Valley manicure is $30 and the Valley pedicure is $45. A gel polish manicure is $50, while a pedicure is $70. Nail art starts at $10.

Owner Nina Werman said that her employees start with a base pay that is above minimum wage, and that once tips are factored in, the average employee "makes more than $20 an hour, easily."  Technicians that are specifically requested by clients earn "a very generous commission," as well as commission on nail art. Overtime pay is granted, and employees are expected to clock in and out each day.

Werman confirmed that employees in their initial 90-day training period are earning that rate, while an advanced technician who is training the new employee earns a higher rate of $20 per hour during this time. Further, each employee walks out the door with her cash tips, as well as a printed-out report showing tips paid via credit card. All employees also receive paid lunch breaks, which are not required by state law.

Valley Nails does not offer acrylic nails and uses only 5-free polishes. Werman assures that each set of tools used during a service has "been disinfected above and beyond state requirements" before use, which includes sanitation in an Ultrasonic disinfectant machine, hand-washing and drying, and individual packaging. Employees are required to use gloves (both latex and non-latex are available) during waterless pedicures, though the have the choice to remove them for massages. Masks are provided for the "little bit of dust" that's generated when removing a gel polish as well.

Name: Vanity Projects

Address: 99 Chrystie St, Lower East Side

Prices: A basic manicure is $18 and a basic pedicure is $30, while a mani/pedi is $45. A single-color gel manicure is $40, while a pedicure is $60.

Owner Rita de Alencar Pinto told Racked that all of her employees are part-time and paid "very generously" on a commission structure, while declining to give exact figures. Comparing what top-tier salon workers profiled in the Times make in a day, Pinto said her nail artists, as they're called at Vanity, "are making that within an hour and a half of work," not including tips. "They're the lifeblood of my business, and their happiness is intrinsic to the success of my business," she said of the artists. "So they need to be very well compensated in order to make me feel like they are committed to making this work."

She "only hires very skilled workers," and therefore a probationary training period is not required—nail artists "are getting their commission right off the bat." Vanity uses 5-free polishes and is well-ventilated, Pinto specified. Information sheets that convey information about what is in each product, including toxic ingredients, are available for reference as required by law. Nail artists are required to wear masks when working with acrylics and have the option to wear gloves during any service.

Additional research by Courtney Iseman.