The Price of Spa-Pedis

My afterwork pedi. Arguably a mani with those finger-like toes.

Treating myself to pedicures is a recent indulgence.  I used to find the ordeal a bit strange, but I’ve now grown accustomed to the experience: Enter the shop, pick your polish color, soak your feet in bubbly water, turn on massage chair, have someone scrape the gunk out of your nails, clip and file them.  Your feet and lower legs get scrubbed, massaged, then your perfectly groomed nails are polished with a stylish new color.

A spa-pedi session after a long and tiring work week with some girlfriends felt golden yesterday.  But after visiting the salon’s bathroom, I was reminded of some apprehensions I have towards getting pedicures (and manicures).  There were jugs of acetone polish remover and various containers of creamy, hard-to-pronounce labeled substances.

My mani-pedi reservations are because of the following:

1. It’s hard to escape the smell of chemical fumes in the salon.

2. Nail polish contain harmful ingredients to our health (such as Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde, and Toluene), albeit in “safe” doses.

3. I feel a bit awkward having people service my feet.

4. Why pay for a pedi when you can buy a good bottle of nail polish for a third of the cost?  And then you can keep painting your nails and your girlfriends’ nails too.

These are reasons (among others) many women avoid or limit getting pedicures, and I would still put myself in the “limit” category.  Like eating chocolate mouse cake, I’ll enjoy this in moderation.

But to address the first two points of my reservations (which bother me the most), nail polish is still considered “safe” and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

By law, nail products sold in the United States must be free of poisonous or deleterious (harmful) substances that might injure users when used as labeled or under the usual or customary conditions of use…Many nail products contain potentially harmful ingredients, but are allowed on the market because they are safe when used as directed. (FDA)

Even if products are used “as directed” our skin and nails are permeable to toxins, meaning they can be absorbed by our bodies.  Small amounts may have little or no health impact. Unfortunately small amounts of toxins are also found in cleaning products, shampoos, soap, detergents, and pesticides on food, which can all add up.

Potential risk for:

Formaldehyde – It’s a suspected carcinogen; can cause breathing difficulty (wheezing and coughing); induce eye, nose, and throat irritation; some develop fatigue, skin rash, severe allergic reactions.

Toluene – Acute and chronic reactions vary depending on exposure and can range from nausea to impaired speech, hearing, and vision; may affect reproductive development (generally for women who abuse solvents).

DBP – Evidence of adverse health effects are limited, however animal studies show reproductive issues associate with exposure.

With growing concern over increased exposure to toxins found in beauty products, as consumers we can push for safer alternatives.  Many local health food stores and (natural) spas now carry organic or natural nail polish brands, such as No-Miss nail polish, Suncoat, or Zoya.  If you have concerns, it’s worth Google-ing “natural spa (your location)” and asking before your appointment if the salon’s products are DPB, formaldehyde, and toluene free (especially if you’re pregnant).

I’ll definitely get a pedicure again.  It’s hard to resist the lure of sitting in a massage chair while you get your feet scrubbed, and then leaving with nicely groomed and painted toes.  This is especially tempting during times when I’m treating myself for working like a donkey.  However, among the many other beautifying luxeries (like hair cuts and waxing) I’ll have to examine the cost-benefit ratio.  Costs = monetary and health impact and benefits = having nice feet and feeling like a queen for an hour.