Let’s be real: Mani-pedis can result in a lot of waste. I’ve seen it firsthand in my work as a licensed nail technician. As a student preparing to graduate with a degree in environmental studies and sustainability, these two sides of me seem to be at odds. However, I’ve come to discover sustainable nail care is possible.
First things first: I don’t think people should feel like they have to give up what brings them joy. I’ve seen it suggested several times to leave the manicures behind to avoid waste. But I think we should work to innovate the industry instead of abandoning it altogether.
Doing our nails has value as a method of creative expression or as an intentional act of self-care. It has cultural significance in some communities. And while many of our hobbies or routines generate waste, we can still make an effort to inspire change.
Here, I share what I’ve learned in this line of work, as well as my tips to help you make more eco-friendly choices when it comes to nail care. I hope we can start a conversation about what the future of nail care can look like, from at-home pampering to a salon-quality service.
5 Sustainable Nail Care Tips
1. Think Twice Before Clicking Purchase
As nail care enthusiasts, it’s easy to fall into the habit of buying whatever nail art is the current microtrend. Many of the technicians I know have art collections that have been majorly left untouched. One way to make more sustainable choices is to resist the urge to buy excess accessories on AliExpress or Amazon. Instead, we can find more ethical suppliers.
There is also a massive trend of brands purchasing supplies that were potentially unethically sourced, upping the price, and then reselling on a different platform. It’s important to be wary and make educated decisions when we are ready to buy. After all, conscious consumerism is here to stay, and it can lead to major change.
Something that can also help is choosing not to buy large supply kits for just one or two projects. Instead, find a way to buy items individually. Only purchasing what we truly use can reduce waste. For art, think about buying biodegradable glitters, dried flowers, and glass stones before choosing options made of non-recyclable plastics and metals.
When clients get their nails done at a salon, they can still opt for high-quality, ethical products—and they can do their research on the business they’re going to. However, one thing to note is that this trade-off for a better impact could result in a higher cost. It’s an investment, one that isn’t always accessible.
That’s why it’s up to consumers to make the best choices—not just for the planet, but for themselves, too.
2. Grow Those Nails Out
Many people firmly believe that their nails aren’t strong enough to grow out, but you’d be surprised what proper maintenance and a builder or hard gel can do!
Growing out your nails eliminates the need for a tip or extensions. If your nail does crack, no biggie! You can repair it using a tea bag or one of the many other DIY methods out there and have it look like a fresh manicure.
After all, the most sustainable nail care tip I can offer is to keep your nails healthy. To do this, be sure to wear reusable gloves when washing dishes or using cleaners around your home, and never use your nails as tools.
3. Single-Use Supplies
Those who get mani-pedis regularly should know that absolutely under no circumstances should some tools be used on more than one client before being disposed of. For example, porous files, buffers, and pumice stones should not be reused for sanitary reasons.
And for techs, following the laws and regulations where you live takes precedence. Proper cleaning and sterilization practices cannot be compromised.
But luckily for some items, we do have options! For instance, you can buy a metal cuticle pusher instead of single-use wooden ones. Or use a glass soak-off bowl instead of cotton rounds and tinfoil. Try to identify the areas in your salon where the waste really stacks up—that way, you can be more mindful of solutions going forward.
Additionally, try buying sugar scrubs, lotions, and masks in bulk instead of in wasteful single-use packs. The amount of trash you save there alone on pedicures could really add up.
If you do your nails at home, this is a tip that’s a lot easier to implement—and I’m sure some of you already are! Consider buying reusable files and cuticle pushers for your at-home manicures. Your supplies are likely to last longer since they’re only being used on one person.
4. Compost, Compost, Compost!
Here’s a fun fact you may not have heard before—nail trimmings are biodegradable and compostable! Just make sure you have bare nails and clip away. It might take a while due to the keratin content in nails, but eventually, they do break down.
Using orange, lime, lemon, and cucumber slices can really take your pedicure to the next level and are compostable. It’s also extremely easy to make your own customized exfoliating sugar scrubs, which can save you some money in the long run, too. Who knew sustainable nail care could include composting?
5. Embrace the Digital Age
Technicians have many options to go paperless. Using a proper card-accepting app for business transactions on your phone will allow receipts to be sent to clients by email, and all of your bookkeeping will be in one place for reference.
You can also keep an e-business card to send over to potential clients. Digital gift cards are a great addition to the lineup too as they’re impossible to lose.
Did any of these tips give you new ideas? Hopefully, in the near future, we will see nail supply brands be more transparent with their ingredient sourcing, more recyclable and biodegradable supplies, and eco-friendly polish innovations. I for one can’t wait to see what the future has in store for sustainable nail care!
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