Who doesn't love a good manicure? In turbulent times, treating your fingernails to a trim, buff, and fresh coat of polish can provide a much–needed sense of stability and relaxation.
However, many nail salon regulars are starting to realize that the ingredients used in their go–to products include hazardous chemicals. Enter organic nail salons—an alternative to the traditional nail parlor that avoids using toxic substances in order to protect the well–being of both workers and clients.
Organic nail salons in Philadelphia are few and far between. Still, businesses like Raw Lab Spa and Juju Salon & Organics are working hard to make natural products the norm. Though they do offer many of the services found at typical salons, these two places take the experience to the next level by prioritizing their customers’ health.
Under its current management since December 2018, Raw Lab Spa guarantees its customers an enhanced experience that not many salons can offer. Candice Nguyen, a nail technician, struggled to put into words just how much care and dedication her mother, owner Spa Thuc Nguyen, puts into ensuring that only materials of the highest quality are used on her customers.
For example, whenever customers book one of the salon's special services—like the Ginger Ale Pedicure or Herbal Foot Treatment—the salon ensures that the ingredients are as fresh as possible.
“As soon as somebody [books a special pedicure], we'll go to the store the night before or the day before,” Candice says. "Every single time my mom is prepping for these pedicures, she goes to the store and says, 'I need to buy ginger for the customers.'"
Unlike typical nail salons, Raw Lab Spa doesn't provide acrylic services. Instead, it encourages its clientele to opt for a dip powder that is enriched with vitamins from the brand Emchi, which was started by the Nguyens. Emchi products promise to uphold the high standard that customers expect from a salon treatment—while also being vegan and cruelty–free.
For customers that prefer traditional nail lacquer, Raw Lab Spa also carries polishes from Zoya, known for its line of "clean," high–quality products.
Meanwhile, Juju Salon & Organics—nestled in the heart of Queen Village—holds the title of Philadelphia's first organic salon. The business has operated on the values of being non–toxic and environmentally friendly ever since its owner, Julie Featherman, first opened its doors back in 2005.
Adrian Novak, nail technician and manager of Juju Salon & Organics, says the business is dedicated not only to providing high–quality services but also to upholding the integrity of all of the products they use.
Before Adrian, or any technician or stylist, can introduce a new product to the salon's lineup, they have to guarantee that it's cruelty–free, vegan, and non–toxic. The product must be 5–Free, meaning that it's free of toluene, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, and camphor—harmful substances often present in nail products.
"We would consider bringing something in if it hit all the points we needed it to. If it were as clean as it has to be [and] non–toxic; if it provided a service that our customers were looking for, and we were able to do it safely and cleanly," Adrian says.
When asked if she ever considers expanding her list of products or services to cater to a wider range of clients, Adrian explains that, while she keeps up with new trends in the nail industry, she never strays from the salon’s values.
"We are definitely more concerned about the integrity of your hair and nails than how many clients we can see in a day," she says.
I had the chance to experience the salon's Juju Organic Manicure. The service started off with the traditional markers of any salon appointment—filing, buffing, and trimming my cuticles. But Adrian surprised me when she applied a clear gel along my cuticles that I was unfamiliar with; it was an aloe gel for hydration.
This was followed by an exfoliating salt scrub and a hot towel before she painted my nails with Madam Glam gel polish, a 21–free product—meaning that it's free of 21 common toxic chemicals found in nail polish.
During the manicure, I took in the chic and bustling environment that Juju Salon & Organics cultivates in their store. Clients conversed with each other and their stylists, and I enjoyed my pampering manicure while chatting with Adrian in her section of the salon.
Juju Salon & Organics’ commitment to an eco–friendly experience goes beyond the manicure desk. Much of the furniture housed in the salon is second–hand. Owner Julie repurposed and redecorated several pieces to give Juju a charming and chic look while maintaining the business' commitment to sustainability.
When asked whether the nail salon industry as a whole will start making strides toward eliminating toxic products, Candice and Adrian both emphasize that at the end of the day, it’s up to the customer.
"There will always be a market for acrylic and extensions," Adrian says.
Candice agrees that it's unlikely the nail industry will become sustainable. “People like crazy, fun designs, and some of those things are not achievable unless you have acrylic," she says.
However, the increasing popularity of organic nail salons demonstrates that there has been, and will continue to be, a growing interest in cleaner and greener alternatives.
"The pandemic gave people the time to reevaluate some of their choices, especially where their health is concerned," Adrian says. "We've had a little upsurge [in clients]—maybe folks who were looking for a cleaner way to do things."
Traditional nail salons will always have a large market to cater to, but those who are looking for a cleaner option to the typical manicure can now find their niche at an organic nail salon. Leading the charge are small businesses like Raw Lab Spa and Juju Salon & Organics, who are bringing natural and non–toxic services to our own backyard.