Ever since I investigated the sweatshop-like conditions in most American nail salons a few years ago, I've tend to take a more DIY approach to manicures. This is not to say I won't go to nail salons; pretending they don't exist won't help this underpaid, overworked, mostly female and immigrant workforce. What will: Tipping well, because it usually makes up the bulk of their income, and giving your business to salons that provide their nail technicians with face masks, gloves and adequate ventilation.
But finding a salon where I can be sure the workers are well-treated and fairly compensated still isn't always as easy as I'd like. (There are a scattering of green nail salons across the country -- a trend we need to grow!) Plus, doing my nails myself saves cash and means I can be sure of using a more environmentally-friendly brand of polish. This is key because many Big Beauty brand polishes still contain the "toxic trio" of carcinogenic ingredients: formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate, though there are bunches of greener polishes on the market now (EcoSalon just did a great brand roundup; I'm also loving A Beautiful Life).
All of which is a long way of telling you why I'm psyched about the Zoya Nail Polish Exchange, which started last week and runs through June 30th. Send 'em at least six of your old, out of style, toxin-containing nail polish bottles and they'll send you six new Zoya colors of your choosing in a bottle-for-bottle exchange. Okay, so it's not quite free -- You have to pay $3.50 in shipping per bottle. But that's still half off the usual price. And Zoya will dispose of the old stuff in accordance with EPA guidelines. (Yes, that's right. There are EPA guidelines for safely disposing nail polish the way you would other kinds of paint and solvents. So stop throwing it in the trash.)
Here's hoping this is the start of a new polish recycling trend for consumers and salons, too. Meanwhile, bring a bottle of toxin-free polish in with you the next time you get a pedicure, and suggest your local salon consider carrying a safer brand. And learn more about how you can support safer work environments for nail technicians at the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative.