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Environmentally friendly nail salon packs ’em in
2008-05-28


OAKLAND — Extravagant manicures and pedicures are in high demand these days despite concerns about catching infections at less-than-immaculate salons.


Isabella Nail Bar recently opened in Montclair Village, is designed to offer these beauty services in a sanitary environment, thanks to its founder, Nguyen Uyen, a chemist.




In two months since she opened Isabella Nail Bar, Nguyen has attracted such a following that she said she’s looking for a second property.


Nguyen, her family name, worked as a chemist for Analog Devices for almost 10 years. She began looking into the area of beauty care when two of her sisters-in-law, both manicurists, fell ill from having handled for several years the acrylic used in nail care. One of them lost her 8½-month-old unborn baby, Nguyen said.


The chemist went online and educated herself about the products used in nail salons. She learned that one of the largest distributors for nail products for professional salons uses ingredients so harmful that they are banned in Europe - formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate.




"None of these things are in my products," she said.


She also learned the difference between a so-called organic product and a certified organic product.


"Anybody can say their product is organic, but only the government can say it is certified organic," Nguyen said.


Sally Robb Haims, the spokeswoman for the Green Spa Network, an alliance of spas devoted to environmentally friendly products, said the government certifies certain products as organic but does not mandate standards of organic purity.


"The bottom line is, you need to educate yourself and learn to read labels," Haims said.


She said consumers can learn more about ingredients in cosmetics through the Environmental Working Group’s online Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, which features more than 25,000 cosmetic and personal care products and can be accessed at www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep.


Mindful of the practices of some nail salons that do not thoroughly cleanse their foot baths, Nguyen, an Orinda mother of two, designed her own foot baths. She designed a plumbing system that would flush water out rather than recirculate it - as many competitors do - to avoid the spread of infection. Then she engaged a company called Sanijet to construct the tub and incorporate her plumbing design.


To ensure sanitary tools, she has installed an autoclave, the pressurized device medical professionals use to sterilize their instruments.


But her salon isn’t anything like a sterile, clinical doctor’s office. It is a restful, feminine haven.


All of her work seems to be paying off. Nguyen expects to be profitable this year. She has had an excellent reception in her first two months in Montclair, and a core of clients from Berkeley have been urging her to open a store in that city.


"People want me to do all sorts of things, like start an organic juice bar or my own line of products," she said with a broad smile and a grateful, if weary, voice.




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