The Dirt Underneath the Nails

By Fiona Bock

Staff Writer

Summer is the season for manicures and pedicures; many flock to nail salons for cheap summer deals. But underneath the colorful polish and smiling workers lurks a darker side of the nail industry.

A New York Times investigation recently uncovered the widespread exploitation of nail salon workers. “It’s a beautiful industry, it makes people feel better,” a former nail salon owner told the newspaper. “But if a lot of people knew the truth behind it, it wouldn’t happen. They wouldn’t go.”

According to the report, many manicurists are subject to harsh working conditions, little pay, and potential health risks. They work up to 12 hours a day and make very little money; only 25 out of the 100 workers interviewed said they made minimum wage.

Workers endure all manners of humiliation, including diminished tips, constant video monitoring by owners, and physical abuse. When manicurist Qing Lin spilled nail polish remover on a customer’s Prada sandals, Lin was forced to pay $270 and lost her job. “I am worth less than a shoe,” she said.

Salon workers are also exposed to hazardous chemicals that can cause breathing problems, skin disorders, miscarriages, and birth defects. According to medical research, there is a correlation between chemicals in products workers use every day and serious health problems.

“There are so many stories but no one that dares to tell them; no one dares to tell them because they have no one to tell,” said manicurist Nancy Otavalo.

Prompted by the New York Times investigation, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has set up a task force to investigate salons in the state. However, as there are more than 2,000 nail salons in New York and over 17,000 in the country, inspecting these nail salons will not be a very glamorous job.

The problem may be worse in New York, but South Pasadena still has an abundance of nail salons and it is important to think about the true cost of a cheap manicure. If the price is too good to be true, the workers are the ones that are really paying.