What Nail Salon Workers Want You To Know Before Making Your Next Appointment

Making the choice between health and income is often a lose-lose situation in the nail industry.

After months of coronavirus-induced closures, the sandal-wearing people of the United States are rejoicing at one specific aspect of reopenings: nail salons. But the pandemic isn’t suddenly over just because you can go back to getting pedicures. And even with new safety guidelines in place, there are many concerns.

“In some ways I feel safe, and in others I don’t,” Araceli, a nail technician who works in the Bronx, told HuffPost. “The masks we are given are not appropriate for the salons. We need N95s and Nitrile gloves.”

Araceli told HuffPost that the masks provided by her salon’s owner weren’t sufficient to prevent the spread of the virus or inhalation of salon chemicals, and that the provided latex gloves were not protective enough, either.

“The owner told us to use the same gloves between manicures and pedicures, and they break easily,” she said. “I confronted her about this and told her they are not appropriate, but for now I’m buying my own gloves. As owners, they want to save money, but I persisted and she agreed to reimburse me for the more expensive gloves I have been wearing at work.”

Araceli’s salon, like many all over the country, has new security protocols and measures to ensure the safety of clients and workers. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dictate that walk-ins are no longer permitted, customers must receive temperature checks, and plastic partitions have been installed to separate clients from their technicians and each other. Salons are also encouraged to operate at a lower capacity.

Saba Waheed, research director at the UCLA Labor Center, has been focused on financial and health consequences involved with both closing and opening nail salons since.

“COVID not so much as slid but skidded” into reality, Saba Waheed, research director at the UCLA Labor Center, told HuffPost. She has been focused on financial and health consequences involved with both closing and opening nail salons since. A survey her team conducted with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative found that just 6% of nail salon owners were able to keep their employees on payroll during closures, forcing both workers and salon owners to either risk their health or their income. According to the study, 61% of workers and 43% of owners “are most worried about health and safety upon reopening.”

“Salons are already precarious for health and safety because of chemicals and ventilation issues,” Waheed said. “Add a virus to the mix and that’s a lot of pressure on the lungs. On the other hand, how long can you sustain closures? I think in many ways they face a lose-lose situation.”

Araceli said she has the same worries as everyone else, especially as she has two children at home.

“Obviously we need to work, the bills are coming in even though we weren’t working, so I went back afraid. But I had the need to,” she said. “The owner is doing her best to protect us, but the fear is still there.”

There’s also the worry that some clients might not follow the new safety measures. Araceli says she has not faced this problem, but did note that clients are often surprised by the number of measures they need to take in order to enter the salon.

As program coordinator for the Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, Tony Nguyen knows how difficult it can be to get customers to comply with safety guidelines. He’s in constant communication with both owners and workers who have shared stories about customers refusing to follow the rules.

“Customers will come in without a mask and the salon will offer them a free one,” he said. “After a few minutes they’ll say they can’t wear it anymore, they can’t breathe. We try to offer support to the salons with whatever questions they have. Once an owner was worried a customer was going to call the police; I said let her call the police.”

Organizations like Nguyen’s in Los Angeles and the New York Nail Workers Association are working hard to create and enforce safety guidelines and protections for workers. In Los Angeles this week, a group of organizations and unions are coming together to create “health and safety worker committees.”

Waheed said that is a good step toward a safer environment.

“These would be folks trained by the county to do workplace oversight and give them some power to act on issues in the workplace,” she said. “That’s a potential model on how to empower workers in terms of not facing retaliation from their owners as well as how to manage folks who are not complying or following guidelines.”

Ultimately, everyone has a personal choice to make when it comes to what they feel comfortable doing these days ― but it’s important to consider your safety and that of others when considering your next manicure.