Upper East Side On a recent Sunday afternoon at Issa Nails Salon on Lexington Avenue between 61st and 62nd streets, three manicurists dutifully shape and file their client’s fingernails with sterilized tools and freshly opened, individually wrapped nail files without gloves on. Across the salon, two pedicurists work on clients side by side, one wearing a facial mask and latex gloves while the other is not.
Meanwhile, to clean her desk after completing a manicure, the store’s manager folds a paper towel filled with nail clippings and wipes it across her work space, pushing the remaining nails on the desk to the floor.
With nail salons dotting nearly every block, and the whims of Yelp reviewers holding enormous sway, the competition for customers is fierce. Issa Nails Salon, at 800 Lexington Avenue, has a four and a half star Yelp rating from a total of 50 reviews – a high rating. But most of the positive reviews, while mentioning cleanliness, focus on the service and quality of the nail procedures, and not too much on safety.
That was also the conclusion of a recent study published by the Public Advocate’s office, “How Safe is Your Nail Salon?” In the report, Public Advocate Letitia James found that many of the city’s nail salons don’t follow the proper safety regulations, designed to protect both workers and customers.
One major reason for unsafe and unsanitary conditions in nail salons is that New York’s Dept. of State has only 27 inspectors who are charged with monitoring 5,000 salons statewide, 2,000 of which are in the city. One Dept. of State report said that over the past four years, 56 percent of salons inspected were cited for violations; 11 percent for operating without a license, 13 percent for employing unlicensed practitioners, 19 percent for sanitary violations, 53 percent for technical violations like uncovered trashcans, and 20 percent for no proof of insurance.
Nail salons are popular in New York, which employs the second highest number of nail technicians of any state at 13,100. That number only stands to increase. James cited a study in her report that says the industry is expected to grow 16 percent nationwide by 2022. The industry currently employs 87,000 workers nationwide.
It could be argued that nail salon employees are the most at risk, as they can be exposed to the “toxic trio” ? toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate – on a daily basis. The three chemicals, found in many nail products, have been linked to reproductive harm and cancer.
Exacerbating the issue is that health and safety procedures are not posted in multiple languages, and many technicians are sourced from the immigrant population, particularly the Asian community, said the report.
“Among the population of nail salon employees, the majority are immigrant women from Asian countries who have limited English proficiency,” said the report, which went on to say that studies indicate 71 percent of nail technicians never or rarely wear facemasks, 46 percent never or rarely wear gloves, and 63 percent never or rarely wear protective eyewear.
A survey of 100 nail salon employees in New York City concluded that 57 percent developed an allergic reaction, 37 percent experienced eye irritation, and 37 percent developed skin problems due to their work.
The report also says the average nail technician in the city makes $8.95 an hour, and most employers don’t provide health insurance.
Based on the report, James recommends working to give the city authority to designate their own salon inspectors and calls on the state to hire more inspectors, among other initiatives.
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