Why Cheap Mani-Pedis Aren’t Worth The Savings

An story was published in the New York Times last week, describing the truly awful conditions endured by some of New York's manicurists. From unhealthy work conditions to denial of basic human rights, it’s a piece that has us talking. How do Canadian salons measure up? We contacted Kristen Wood, owner of The Ten Spot Beauty Bars to ask her what to watch for when you’re booking your next mani-pedi and how to make sure your salon is following basic health and safety standards.

cheap mani pedi health risks
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How can we know if nail salons are treating their workers fairly?

If a nail bar offers a mani-pedi for $30, that service takes at least an hour and a half. After the business covers their costs, it is unlikely that the employee is making even minimum wage. The margins are too low, so obviously something inappropriate is happening: either supplies are being reused, stations aren’t cleaned properly (as the sanitization process takes time) or the employees are not being paid properly.

Have you personally heard bad stories?

I am regularly shocked at how appreciative new hires at The Ten Spot are, largely due to negative experiences in their past jobs. In many cases lunch breaks, tips and statutory holiday pay are not provided by unethical employers in our industry.

As for health and safety, I think it is important to note how the consumer experience and the worker experience are intertwined. If a worker is being exploited, nail salons are also cutting corners on health and safety standards that affect the consumer.

What are some examples of cost-cutting that we should worry about?

Reusing of nail files and buffers. Most places have finally adopted the practice of providing a new file or buffer, but still use wooden foot paddles which can never be sanitized and are like petri dishes for fungus and bacteria.

Massaging foot jet tubs are unsanitary. Jets cannot be fully sanitized. Some aren’t even hooked up to plumbing — meaning water doesn’t truly drain but rather is filtered and reused. The optimal standard is that the foot bath needs to be emptied and soaked in bleach for at least 10 minutes.

As an owner of a nail and beauty business, what steps do you take to keep your workers healthy?

It is of utmost importance to our business that members of our team are treated well. Beyond health and safety (the minimum standard), I believe that everyone should be treated with the highest dignity while providing guest services.  In short — we aren’t doing anything amazing — we are just treating our employees how they should be treated.

  • We only offer services on the natural nail plate and do not offer acrylic nails, which created the most chemical and dust related issues. The acrylic nail needs to be shaped or removed via a drill — so not only are harsh chemicals used to apply it, but the acrylic is drilled and all those particles can be inhaled by the service provider. A strong chemical smell in a spa comes from the processing of acrylic nails. Also we use nail polish that is ‘3 free’ or ‘4 free’ to reduce both guest and service provider exposure.
  • All of our locations are all in accordance with ESA standards (ie: proper breaks and lunches, even if someone wants to work longer we don’t allow it. We pay overtime and of course STAT pay, etc.). We pay for every hour worked, which includes or extensive training hours — in fact we also offer 20 hour of paid professional development training per year if someone is ambitious and wants to take a speed waxing class or management certificate. Most of our locations offer health and dental benefits to full timers (we are franchised, so that is elective for the company that owns the location). Staff also enjoy up to 15 per cent retail commissions as well as competitive wages and of course they keep 100 per cent of their tips (even on credit cards, we do not deduct the fees as is the practice in some competitors).
  • We also take action to reduce staff and guest exposure to communicable illness. We have prominent signage that states kindly that “we are unable to perform services if we believe you may currently have a communicable skin condition. ie: fungus, warts or any other unknown irritation that may be present at the time of your service.” We’ve had irate guests leave us citing that ‘the place down the street is willing to give them a mani-pedi even though they have a wart or fungus and although we hate to lose a guest, it’s a non-starter for us. Prior to every service we also do a ‘health and safety assessment’ that is built into our protocols for every service. If we see anything contagious or even that we are unsure of, we will quietly request they do another service, put a note on file and let the guest know we can do that service again provided they receive the all clear in writing from a doctor. And we really do get the doctors’ notes.

What are a few things Canadians need to look out for when seeking an ethical and healthy venue for their next mani-pedi?

Check the prices and do some quick math. Business is all about margins — and a business in services is all about time. So if your mani-pedi takes an hour and a half and costs $30 — it is unlikely that staff performing the service is getting a proper wage plus all the costs of rent, utilities, supplies etc. Either the worker is suffering or the hygiene standards are — and usually it’s both.

 

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