NYT on Manicurist Conditions

If you haven’t yet heard or read, the New York Times published a piece on the manicurist conditions in NYC. Instead of the content I had scheduled for today, I wanted to talk about this. Today’s content will instead be shared on Saturday, May 16 at 10 AM EST – so be sure to check back then!

I’m not going to re-write their article, but the short of it is that if you’re paying for a cheap service, someone is getting screwed – and in many of these cases it is the manicurist, and sometimes, it is you. References to $25 for a manicure and pedicure together – a service that most of us consider a treat, a luxury; a service that would normally take at least an hour total with the skills of a licensed, trained professional – think about it. Corners are being cut.

In this case, frequently immigrant women are being taken advantage of, being paid ludicrously low wages or, sometimes, not at all, withholding wages because they feel like it, etc. Beyond that, owners often require employees to pay them to be brought on, or for additional training (“Want to learn how to apply gel polish? That’s $100.”) that isn’t even really training so much as just shadowing another employee. On top of those already-egregious violations, racism runs rampant.

The piece on manicurist conditions focuses primarily on how they are taken advantage of when it comes to pay, but what else is being overlooked. If you have a shop owner who is willing to pay his people less than $30 per day (for 10+ hour shifts), what other corners have been cut? Here are a few thoughts:


The women discussed in the article did not come into this line of work with pre-existing nail technician experience. They weren’t trained or licensed elsewhere, coming to NYC for the higher traffic…they don’t take an approved course, they didn’t take an exam, they aren’t licensed. They don’t know the laws, regulations, and best-practices, and they (largely, but not always) don’t seek the information on their own…and even if they do, they are limited by what their shady employer will provide or allow.


Manicurist Conditions - Using Excessively-thinned Polish on Clients

Bet if we analyzed the contents of those bottles on the shelf you’ll find your favorite OPI heavily watered down with polish thinner, whether or not it needed it. Or, hell, it may not even be OPI – like a cheap, shady bar, jerks like this aren’t above rebottling cheap polish. They also aren’t using an ORLY thinner to do it, but that’s aside the point.

Same goes for lotions and scrubs. If you’re getting a $25 manicure AND pedicure, the owner isn’t supplying OPI Avojuice. You have no way of knowing what is in the stuff being used on you.


Manicurist Conditions - Inadequate Sanitation Puts both Clients and Manicurists at Risk

Let’s face it – the type of people who would treat their employees (who are, they forget, people) this poorly doesn’t give a damn about quality. He cares about volume. That means rapid-fire service – not attentive, and certainly not taking the time to thoroughly sanitize everything. Sure, if you make a point of asking it may happen…but it shouldn’t have to, because it isn’t just a best practice, it is both a matter of health and legality. If any cleaning is done, it is probably done with either less product than is recommended for the job, or the product is diluted. This puts both the client and manicurist at risk.

Think about the shop you go to – is it dingy? Dust everywhere? Were the metal instruments used on you taken from an autoclave? Were the, “soft,” instruments used on you used on you, alone? If the owner doesn’t give two-fifths of a damn about his employees, do you think he gives a damn about you?

– – –

As for me, I do most of my nail work on my own. I’ll get a pedicure twice a year or so, and I won’t patronize a questionable salon. Although getting a good deal is always nice, doing so at the expense of someone’s livelihood is not.

There’s no good solution to the problem, but it is good to see that Governor Cuomo is taking action. I don’t patronize shady salons because I work hard for my money and do not wish for it to fund exploitation any more than it already does (let’s face it, our wardrobes are not ethically produced). I won’t tell you what to do – but I do suggest you research and make your own choices. Some people say not patronizing those establishments means the affected have NO job and is, therefore, a bad solution. What’s worse – someone losing their job at which they made maybe $2.50/hr (except not necessarily), had their tips skimmed, etc. or someone having that job that allows them to afford, oh, nothing and padding the pockets of some clown who thinks he’s doing a good thing (they seriously think they’re doing good work). Our money already goes places we don’t necessarily wish it would – so why would I actively choose to enable slave-driving scum like this?

Really, the NYT’s expose is sharing what most of us skeptics already knew. I’m curious, though – what are your thoughts on the matter?

2 thoughts on “NYT on Manicurist Conditions”

  1. Illuminating article! I hadn’t heard about the NYT piece either, but it makes sense.

    It’s so easy to just look at the good deal and not give any consideration to HOW the price got so low…

    I’d love to find a reliable, reputable salon (immigrants or natural born workers aside) that follows the rules, is at least managed by a licensed aesthetician and pays the workers in a reasonable fashion (for example, like a waitress who gets to keep her tips) but can still manage to keep costs to a minimum.

    Of course, we can’t have our cake and eat it too right?

    We can’t change the world.

    I guess the best thing to do is to evaluate our priorities. How often do (most) people really get mani/pedis? Is paying $50 for a quarterly ‘splurge’ really that much worse than $25?

    I mean really, considering how much we spend on Starbucks and iPhones anymore but we’re not willing to pay for a specialized service? (Let’s face it, at home mani/pedis just aren’t the same… it’s not setting everyone can do!)

    That’s just my two cents… we need to keep looking around here, there has to be SOMEWHERE that meets the criteria, right?

    • Isn’t that a strange expression? Who has decorative cakes? I don’t bake just to stare at my results.

      But on a serious note, yes, I very much so want that, too (reputable salon that follows the laws and best-practices). I really don’t know how often the average person indulges – I know I enjoy getting pedicures (but NOT manicures!), but I can’t justify the cost for what (so far) has been mediocre service. Maybe if I find a mind-blowing place I’ll go more than 1-2x per year.

      I can do a decent DIY job, but it isn’t the same. I would prefer luxury pedicures to an iPhone any day…but I’m biased :P

Comments are closed.