8 NYC Nail Salons That Pay Fair Wages

by Tyler Atwood

Indulging in a manicure is one of life's great pleasures if you label yourself a hedonist, yet The New York Times' article on the harsh reality of nail salons exposed the horrific underbelly of the beautification industry, leaving us all scrambling to find ethical nail salons that pay their manicurists (really). Entitled "The Price Of Nice Nails," the feature exposes the appalling work conditions, racial discrimination, and frighteningly minimal wages instituted at a number of New York City's neighborhood salons. After the exposition of the atrocious practices common to so many nail salons in the metropolitan area, inevitably the allure of pristine, polished nails has dimmed considerably. No matter how significant a chipped nail may seem in the heat of the moment, the mistreatment of a worker simply occupies a different stratosphere of gravity.

However, the news isn't without a silver lining. In response to the story, manicure devotees are now rallying behind nail salons that treat their employees with respect, compensate generously, and utilize safe business practices for staff and patrons alike. Why frequent a salon whose employees are maltreated and thus perpetuate negligent business practices when you can bolster companies whose staffers are healthy and happy? Not only do such companies exist in New York City, but these enterprises also provide the most aesthetically pleasing manicures in the city. Before you skip out the door to your local beauty parlor, scroll through this list of New York City salons whose flawless manicures are created by employees who are treated — and compensated — extraordinarily well.

1. Tenoverten

You would have quite a difficult time replicating the soothing and customized experience consumers receive at Tenoverten's Tribeca, Soho, and Midtown salons — and not simply because the array of nail polish hues available for manicures is the stuff of any beauty aficionado's dream. In a phone interview, Salon co-founder Nadine Abramcyk tells me several of the many reasons consumers can feel confident in their choice to frequent Tenoverten, beginning with the salon's strict adherence to the health code. Each piece of nail equipment used during manicures is single-use aside from metal implements, which the salon cleanses meticulously, and the brand's five-free polishes formulated sans toxic dibutyl phthalate, toluene,camphor, formaldehyde, and formaldehyde resin keeps tips in tip-top shape. In addition, Tenoverten's luxurious lotion is paraben-free to ensure a health-optimized experience for consumers.

However, patrons of the salon aren't the only group who benefit from the salon's excellent treatment. Employees are paid well above minimum wage and treated with the utmost professionalism to create what what Abramcyk calls a "safe environment" for both customers and technicians. Abramcyk credits her own corporate background as well as her partner's expertise with the salon's streamlined structure and unparalleled spa atmosphere. Frankly, you're missing a truly impeccable experience if you haven't yet booked an appointment.


2. Jin Soon

A New York City staple, Jin Soon offers the sort of attentive and tranquil service that makes consumers forget they live in one of the most frenetic cities in the world — and the salon's wage practices and health regulations are equally outstanding. Peppered with blissful treatments like the Flower Petal Float for hands at $23 and the Breath of Milk and Honey treatment beginning at $28, the JINsoon menu is founded on the principle of sheer enjoyment, right down to the cup of soothing tea offered to consumers at each visit.

On the topic of wages and the salon's adherence to health codes, JINsoon provided a statement elucidating the company's unimpeachable practices. "Founded by editorial manicurist Jin Soon Choi, JINsoon Spas are committed to providing an ethical and eco-friendly experience for its clients and employees. Manicurists work full time, with a regular 8 hour workday plus a 1 hour lunch break. When tips are taken into consideration, the average manicurist’s hourly wage is several times that of the experienced manicurist’s mentioned in the New York Times piece. The spa hires only experienced technicians, and all manicurists start at the same base wage. Additionally, all polishes available at the spa are 3-free (of harsh chemicals), with some brands boasting 5-free polishes such as Chanel, Dior, and Jin’s own eponymous line JINsoon. The spas do not offer acrylics, and they are dedicated to safe, environmentally-friendly practices such as using non-acetone polish removers, omitting massage chairs that use up copious amounts of electricity, and incorporating natural ingredients in the hand and foot treatments like milk, honey, cucumber, mint leaves, and essential oils. JINsoon pedicure bowls, in particular, are custom-made eco-friendly, without any whirlpool jets that could harbor bacteria. For safety, manicurists are also required to don gloves when working with callus removal ingredients and when working with clients exhibiting skincare conditions." JINsoon sets the standard for New York City nail salon health, and who wouldn't want a manicure from a salon so devoted to its employees and customers?


3. Paintbox

After the New York Times investigative feature was published, Paintbox issued a statement on the company blog which verified that in addition to impeccable polish application, the salon provides a healthy environment for nail technicians and consumers alike. "We conducted extensive research on wages — not just in nail salons, but in beauty businesses around the city. We used this research to inform our compensation structure, and we're pleased to tell you our manicurists are among the most (if not the most) highly compensated in the country. We're proud to tell you that we're entirely woman-owned and operated, and a significant portion of our employees actually own shares in our company. We not only pay the highest hourly wages and salaries in the city from day one (we believe in investing in our employees by paying them to train for several weeks before taking their first clients), we offer paid vacation to full-time employees, as well as health insurance, which we cover in full," Sakura informed its customers. Created by a former magazine editor, the salon's selection of polish shades and nail art is more adventurous than most. Though pricing begins at $35 for a single color manicure and extends to over $65 for nail art, the sartorially-informed experience is well worth the cost.

4. Essie

Set against a sleek white backdrop punctuated by pops of bright color, the Essie Flagship Salon at Samuel Shriqui Salon is just as enticing for an interior design enthusiast as it is for manicure addicts. Essie Weingarten’s lauded polish line is available in a rainbow of hues with quirky names like Coacha'bella and Hubby For Dessert, though classists may be more drawn to definitive shades like Ballet Slippers and Cute As A Button. Weingarten herself was a devoted patron of the salon even before setting up shop within its walls thanks to the talents of resident manicurist Josephine Allen, and if a world-renowned polish tycoon deems a salon top-notch, who am I to argue?

Essie Flagship Salon

5. Sakura

At Sakura, the name of the game is nail health, but you can be sure your manicure will be just as pleasing as the glow the salon's organic, non-toxic products bestow upon your hands. Nail technicians are certified in the art of Calgel, guaranteeing no customer is left with the unfortunate experience of premature peeling or polish that pulls at the cuticle. Especially noteworthy are Sakura's Innocent Manicure for $18 and Pedicure for $35, both of which are performed utilizing non-toxic ingredients that are 85 percent natural. If the safety of your skin is paramount, Sakura is the salon for you.


6. Nail Boutique

With salons in Clinton Hill and Stuyvesant Heights, Nail Boutique's careful polish applications, pleasant environment, and hygiene guarantee are enough to convert any diehard Manhattanite into an Outer Boroughs devotee. To ensure the safety of its customers, Nail Boutique uses a combination of germicidal cleaning solutions and state of the art sterilization techniques on each manicure and pedicure station as well as the tools used for each appointment. In terms of the cuticle care and manicure procedure itself, Nail Boutique is equally fastidious, and with a list of salon nail service options priced between $10 and $60, the price point is right for any budget. If you worship at the alter of hedonism, you can even treat yourself to a hot stone or swedish massage to cap off your indulgent experience.

The Nail Boutique NYC

7. Valley Nails

If it's a unique and visionary design you crave on your tips, Valley Nails may be your salvation. The salon's two locations in Chelsea and Nolita provide all the perks of a professional manicure with none of the stuffiness. Instead, customers can enjoy striped, dotted, pop art-inspired, and ombre nails applied painstakingly by Valley's talented staff. The signature Valley Manicure is a reasonable $30, while a Gel Manicure goes for $50, but nail art will cost you extra — and the aesthetically-pleasing designs are well worth the price. If the health of your nails is a concern, Valley also provides custom extensions that are less detrimental to the nail bed than other artificial options.

Valley Nails

8. Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa

Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa simply exudes Old World glamour and luxury, from the salon's array of meticulous treatments to the plethora of colors available to adorn each fingertip. Manicures begin at a reasonable price of $28 and include relaxing, moisturizing treatments for the ultimate in aesthetics and tranquility. Lest you think the patron pampering comes at the cost of dissatisfied employees, President and Chief Executive Officer of Red Door Spa Holdings Todd Walter assures customers that nail technicians receive the very best in wages and health care. "At Red Door, we seek to enhance the lives of our Guests and Associates through beauty, harmony, and well-being. We include our associates in this objective because we recognize that it is our talented people who take such exceptional care of you, and we believe it is our responsibility, in turn, to take exceptional care of our associates," Walter explained in a statement to Bustle. "Red Door Spa adheres to all state and federal employment and licensing requirements and regulations in all areas. In addition to competitive compensation, we offer a full benefit package including health insurance coverage for our associates and their families, matching 401(k) retirement benefits, paid vacation, and paid continuing education and training. Simply put, we believe that in order to attract and retain the best people, we need to be the best employer in our industry. Our promise to our guests and associates is to provide the best service and tools to deliver exceptional results.” It seems Red Door Spa specializes in both consumer and employee contentment for a truly guiltless spa experience.

Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa

Image: @paintboxnails/Instagram