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What’s Really Behind That Manicure?

Topics: Current Events

Nail technician: It’s one of those careers that seems almost hidden, overlooked, and even ignored. And, when you last went into a nail salon to get your manicure or pedicure, you probably had no idea about the reality of the working conditions the women workers are often forced to endure across the country.

The Nasty Reality of Nail Salons

(Photo Credit: Serge Bertasius/

Low (or no) wages, poor working conditions, long hours, and abuse were all reported by women in the recent expose by The New York Times. Culling through court documents, scouring newspaper accounts, and conducting exhaustive personal interviews, Sarah Maslin Nir uncovered a brutal reality that has long been mostly swept under the rug.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

That’s not to say that nobody knows about what’s going on. All those court cases and other reports clearly demonstrate that some workers are standing up to their bosses, and attempting to gain a fair wage and better conditions. But, the fact that we aren’t vehemently demanding change points to an even more troubling reality. Are we willing to overlook employment violations, as long as we’re able to get that cheap manicure?

To be fair, the issues involved in these cases are wide-ranging and cross-national (even international, since the cases also appear to involve undocumented workers). That doesn’t mean (necessarily) that it’s happening in your home town. It’s possible that the nail salon up the road from you is a perfectly great place, with workers who are well-paid.

You do have power to effect change, and it starts right now:

1. Educate yourself.

That doesn’t mean that you have to read every expose out there, but there are lots of opportunities to become aware of what’s going on. Bottom line: understand that there’s no such thing as a free lunch or a cheap manicure. Someone always pays. If your favorite salon offers rates that are too good to be true, they probably are. And, really is it OK with you that women are working for free to give you a great manicure?

2. Ask questions.

We’re not saying that you must stop getting your manicure. After all, some nail salons are great employers; and it’s important to support them. But, we’re also saying that there are some very poor employers out there; and the workers at those places are being detrimentally affected. So, when was the last time you asked questions, or even tried to determine the labor practices of the salon you visit?

3. Walk in their shoes.

It’s the Golden Rule, right? Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. You may not personally be part of an industry that pays its workers poorly (if at all), but you can be part of the solution when you make choices that directly impact companies that don’t treat their employees fairly. 

4. Consider Alternate Sources.

Alternate sources of nail care and manicures may be more expensive, but are you willing to explore them, if you can ensure that you’re not supporting a business that mistreats its workers? Locate a independent practitioner (or salons that are open and direct about their labor practices). You may pay a bit more, but you’ll also know where your money is going. 

Tell Us What You Think

Are you one of the workers who are working for free in a salon (or other job)? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Esther Lombardi
Read more from Esther

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Really great tips! I think it`s quite safe to get manicure/pedicure at salons, if a master follows hygenic norms and requirements. When I was on Ibiza, I attended the nail salon . You know, I have never seen such a clean place.


nice article!

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