8 New York Manicurists On What The Nail Industry Is Really Like

Photographed by Meredith Hattam.
Working in the NYC nail industry requires one be tough as, well... you know. When we started writing this story, we weren’t sure exactly how difficult it would be. Two months ago, we began to look for sources in our usual way — walking into nail salons, speaking with employees, and setting up interviews outside of working hours.

This time, things were different. After walking into over 20 Manhattan and Brooklyn salons, we found willing participants hard to come by.    

“Not interested,” a manager said at a Chelsea salon.    

“How much can you pay?” asked another in Midtown.

Perhaps their hesitance had something to do with the recent New York Times piece, which details the dark costs of giving a manicure: unsafe work environments, little-to-no pay, and health hazards, to name a few. The article incited immediate outrage, including Governor Andrew Cuomo's order for emergency measures to protect manicurists.

“The only thing that shocked me about the article was the fact that it took this long for the greater public to know about it,” said Helen Ke, a Williamsburg salon owner. “On her first day, one of our technicians didn't drink any water. When I asked if she was thirsty, she responded that she wasn't sure if she could drink the water. I'm not sure how some people can sleep at night doing what they are doing." 

Fortunately, we did track down eight nail artists to speak with, and we were pleasantly surprised by the stories we found. Yes, dangers and prejudice exist, but these women show that there is another side to the industry that isn't so dark. If anything, it's quite inspiring — a working mom who makes sure her salon stays toxin-free for fellow mothers, a student turned celebrity nail artist, and a neurology worker who moonlights as a manicurist.

Ahead, you'll find eight moving tales of what working in the beauty industry can be like.