What is a green manicure all about?

NailsBefore you think “Lily Munster’s favorite thing to do”, think again. This kind of green manicure has everything to do with becoming an activist on behalf of your own health and beauty, and the health of the planet, and not so much a sassy, witchy shade of Halloween green (although, if that is your preference of toe color – go for it! More about that later)

Increasingly, the beauty products we use are coming under scrutiny by conscious consumers ready to insist on the health and safety of everything they put on their bodies. Nail care has gotten a strong look and re-consideration, for nail polish ingredients specifically, but for its overall use of strong chemicals for all the stages of a manicure and pedicure in general, not to mention the chemical bath that is a set of standard artificial nails. Isn’t it time to divest yourself of the experience of walking into a nail salon, ready to relax and be pampered, and have to force yourself to breathe through the chemicals that suggest more auto body shop than nail shop?

The nail bed is an incredibly porous and sensitive entrée into the blood stream of the human being. It literally sucks in all the substances that come into contact with it like a sponge, and pushes them into the tiny capillaries at the end of the finger for dispersal. (Likewise, any substance that is used on or near your physical proximity that emits chemical fumes, detectable or not, will be directly inhaled into the lungs.)

Think about the chemical soup your body can absorb during a regular mani or pedi: first the polish remover (typically made of acetone – a strong, chemical solvent used to break up the composition of plastics and paints), then a cuticle cream (most contain ingredients like salicylic acid to break down tissue, or triethanolamine an emusifier); next, various soaks, scrubs, and massages with lotions and potions (which could all contain various chemical detergents and preservatives, synthetic fragrances and colors), and then the application of the polish itself (most commercial brands contain formaldehyde, DBP, and tuolene) – all very toxic chems that have been linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, allergies and certain neurotocixities. Tuolene, for example, is an octane booster in gasoline, and it’s a requirement by law in California, to post hazard warnings at all gas pumps about tuolene for pregnant women!

More bad news: If you happen to feel like splurging, perhaps you would get a paraffin dip (the wax is a by-product of petroleum). The supplies used on you (plastic toe separators, disposable slippers) are also by-products of petroleum and end up in the garbage (landfill), where with any luck, they will break down in, oh, about a billion years. And in case you forgot, petroleum is a non-sustainable resource. The search for, and procurement of petroleum has had major detrimental impacts on the soil, ground water, surface water, and ecosystems of the United States and around the world. Petroleum refineries release toxic, hazardous air pollutants, such as BTEX compounds, and air pollutants, like sulfur dioxide.

Whew. That little “beauty” regimen of yours just got a whole lot uglier, didn’t it? What‘s a girl to do, for crying out loud? Thankfully, there are more and more eco-friendly salons, spa services, and home care products to ease up congestion on the chem highway, and provide great alternatives for incredible hand and foot pampering. You still get to choose from hundreds of lush shades of paints, and you still get to feel like the spa princess that you are (even if you DIY in your own bathroom…er, spa HQ).

The first place to start is to think about getting rid of your artificial nail addiction, if you have one. It kills the health of the nails and prohibits any ability for the nail to flourish and grow on its own. If you have problems growing healthy nails, the root cause could be deficiencies in your diet. Take supplements of Vitamin A and calcium for nails that split or break easily, and Vitamin B for fungus, or ridges. Use tea tree or lavender oil to fight fungus outbreaks. Take Vitamin C or folic acid for hang nails, and avoid cutting cuticles, as this causes them to grow back thicker.

Use course sea salt or turbinado sugar mixed with your favorite essential oils for great exfoliating scrubs to get rid of calluses on the bottoms of the feet. (Try mixing salt or sugar with organic grapeseed oil for an incredible skin conditioner and callous softener.) Use a finer grain sugar mixed with lemon juice for the hands, as this will help lighten age spots or other skin discolorations.

Although the Spredi-Spa is a dandy entrée into the world of green pedicures, (it is a disposable, biodegradable toe separator and pedicure slipper all in one), the most eco way to solve the problem of having something to wear out of the salon with wet toes, is of course, to bring your own pair of flip flops. As you now are surely keeping re-usable canvas grocery bags in your car trunk, why not keep an extra pair of flip flops as well?

While we’re on the subject of “Nail Kitbringing your own”, this goes double for the basic nail care tools. Bring your own re-usable set of clippers, emery board/file, orange stick, and nail brush. You’ll cut down on your exposure to infectious bacteria from others, and in the process, you’ll be participating in the eco conscious practice of reducing, reusing, and recycling.


For polish: there is now a whole wonderful world of options available at health food stores and natural beauty apothecaries, as well as on-line. Our favorite brands are known as the “three-free” polishes, as they have all had the formaldehyde, DBP, and tuolene removed. These include Zoya, Honeybee Gardens, Priti, and Nubar. They have extensive color choices (Zoya has that particular shade of “witchy green” you might like, and new seasonal palettes every year), and last just as long as any other traditional brand, without chipping or peeling.

 Green Manicure

A new polish on the scene takes the concept of non-toxic polish a step further. Aquarella claims its polishes could be ingested, they are that chem free! These are water based polishes, and require a conditioning step of the nail bed to remove oils and residues accumulated from other polishes, removers and lotions (oil and water don’t mix). The high water content of this product can really be felt as it absorbs into the nail. No base coat OR top coat is needed when using this system—altogether, a very interesting peek into the future of nail care.

Eco Manicures

So now you have your own little nail care kit, yet you still crave the pampering and massages that come along with having someone else give you a mani or pedi. If you’re watching your pennies, and have to patronize a budget nail shop, at least you’ve taken very important steps to insure more of your health and safety. Choose a seat near an open door or fan while getting your treatment, and bargain for longer foot massages since you’re providing most of your own supplies.

If you happen to live in a city where there is an eco-friendly nail salon or services (uh hm: GreenBliss EcoSpa to the rescue), then you don’t have to take your supplies, as everything they have will be top of the line green and good. The sanitation standards will be stellar, the chemical fumes will be non-existent, and the ingredients used in the products will be more pure. A green salon cost a little more, but in the end, is really worth it.

And if you’re still the CEO of your own Home Spa HQ, then invite a friend over and make it a party. Your digits, your dermis, and your dollars will appreciate it!