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Is it possible to care for our nails without introducing toxins into our systems and while caring for the environment? Dear reader, our ace correspondent Jillian Tangen has the scoop on non-toxic and cruelty-free nail care, whether at home or at the salon. Here’s how to care for nails in an eco-friendly way, including expert tips from Brooklyn-based cruelty-free nail salon Lili and Cata. 

good nail care is good self care!

The process of caring for our nails – whether it’s a mani-pedi in a luxury salon or the old DIY routine on Sunday night – has traditionally been chemical-heavy. And not particularly sustainable.

Is it possible to care for our nails without introducing toxins into our systems and caring for the environment?  The answer is yes! Here’s how to be eco-friendly when caring for your nails right now. 

You may recall at the beginning of January, when our Team Dandelion Chandelier shared some of our goals for 2020.

The goal I shared was to spend less time on my phone to create more opportunities to read and focus on family. And while I have been hard at work on that, there has also been another, less sexy goal that I have been working hard on: to take better care of my nails.

busy life, brittle and broken nails

As long as I can remember I have had insecurities about my hands and nails. To start with, both are rather short. Nothing like the long and lean digits you see throughout magazine and television ads.

On top of that, my nails are brittle and seem to constantly break or split, making it impossible to grow them. As a child I was a biter and as an adult they haven’t been treated much better, with things like dish-washing, cleaning our home and caring for small children. And I can’t even count the number of times I have used them to peel a label or prey a tab open. As a result my nails have suffered.


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new year, new and improved nail care regimen

While I can’t change the length of my fingers, I can change my habits. So what’s a working mom of three with bad nail care habits to do? There was only one way to finally tackle this problem once and for all. By booking a visit at one of Brooklyn’s newest nail salons for some nail care 101. And, of course, a little TLC.

how to take care

How to care for nails in an eco-friendly way – expert tips from cruelty-free nail salon Lili and Cata. Courtesy Photo.

a visit to lili and cata, an eco-friendly nail salon

In early December I had a chance to visit Lili and Cata, a non-toxic and cruelty-free nail salon in Brooklyn.

The salon is relatively new, but has quickly become known for its use of non-toxic, vegan cruelty-free polishes that have no chemicals like formaldehyde and TPHP. Like those made by the beauty brand Zoya ($10).

The salon also employs waterless services, meaning no soaking your fingers in bowls or your feet in tubs. And it focuses on new hygienic techniques to ensure not only your health, but that of their technicians, too.

The result is a new spin on the traditional mani-pedi experience, where your nails, health and the environment are put first. Yay!


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Upon entry to the salon, the first step is a Q&A. I explained to owner Lilly Rojas and my appointed nail technician, Olga, all of my nail woes. From childhood to present. And my goal  of taking better care of them.

As Olga worked her magic to transform my then-current nail situation into glossy goodness, Lilly gave me the 411 on what I could do both inside and outside the salon to keep my nails in tip top shape.

how to take care

How to care for nails in an eco-friendly way – expert tips from cruelty-free nail salon Lili and Cata. Courtesy Photo.

how to achieve eco-friendly and effective care for your nails in 5 easy steps

What changes can we all make to our nail-care regime – and what should we consider on future salon visits – to achieve healthy nails in an eco-friendly way? Here’s the scoop, straight from the experts:

1. apply cuticle oil.

Cold and dry winter air wreaks havoc our skin and hair. Even worse? It also messes with your nails. Just about all of us are more prone to splitting, peeling and breakage this time of year. In order to prevent these tragedies we need to maintain moisture in both our nails and our cuticles.

nail care 2020

How to care for nails in an eco-friendly way – expert tips from cruelty-free nail salon Lili and Cata. Start with cuticle oil. Courtesy Photo.

And the best way to do that is by applying cuticle oil daily.

Try applying cuticle oil such as Josie Maran’s 100% Pure Argan Oil ($20) in the afternoon followed by a hand lotion (we love Chanel’s N°5 L’eau Hand Cream ($55)). Then, before bed, repeat.

Not only will your nails and hands look and be healthier, your polish will also last longer thanks to fewer cracks – win, win.

2. go waterless.

Traditionally, mani/pedis have included water to soak your cuticles. But water is bad for our nailsreally bad, in fact.

When you soak your nails in water, they absorb it at an even faster rate than the rest of your skin. That causes the nail to expand and shrink within hours of the manicure being completed, ultimately causing the polish to chip prematurely.

nail care 2020

How to care for nails in an eco-friendly way – expert tips from cruelty-free nail salon Lili and Cata. Step 2: go to a waterless salon. Courtesy Photo.

Not to mention that water absorption makes them super weak and depletes our cuticles of their oils. Hence, Lili and Cata opted to be a waterless salon. Not to mention the gallons of water saved and significantly reduced risk of infections – more on that later, though.


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3. use protection.

Looking for an excuse not to do chores? Protecting your mani is it. But in the event you can’t have someone else do all the cleaning, washing the dog or bathing your kids, be sure to wear rubber gloves.

They will protect your hands from the excess moisture that weakens your nails as you wash your dishes and your tiniest family members. And don’t hesitate to use them outside of the kitchen or bath either. Wear gloves and use the proper tools for all kinds of chores. Like while cleaning off your car windshield. Or when you need to open the tab on your daily La Croix. After all, your nails are not tools and should not be used as such.

4. be vigilant about cleanliness.

This should go without saying. But make sure your salon is going above and beyond to sterilize its tools. Unfortunately, even the seemingly nicest salons can practice less-than-stellar cleanliness procedures.

Be sure your salon uses single-use files and buffers. And don’t be afraid to ask the technician to open a package in front of you to be sure you’re getting a fresh single-use tool.

Eexpert tips from cruelty-free nail salon Lili and Cata.

Another cleanliness tip? Make sure the salon’s non-disposable tools are being properly cleaned. And do note that disinfection and sterilization are not the same.

An autoclave sterilization device, which is now available in better nail salons like Lili and Cata, is guaranteed to kill any bug. Unlike the blue disinfecting solution you might see at a hair salon, which doesn’t kill all bacterial spores.

Cleanliness is not only important for your safety, but the safety of the technicians, too. Because without it, you can easily catch something unfortunate, not to mention unsightly – and no boss lady wants that.


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5. take biotin.

Our fingernails can say a lot about our overall health, so it only makes sense that adequate vitamin, mineral and nutrient intake helps support the growth, formation and strength of our nails.

Try a biotin supplement like Hum’s Killer Nails ($20) to promote healthy cell growth. As a B-Complex vitamin, it will aid in the metabolism of protein-building amino acids that are essential for nail growth. (Full disclosure, our CEO is a board member of the parent company of Nutranext, a maker of nutritional supplements).

Expert tips from cruelty-free nail salon Lili and Cata. Final step: take a biotin supplement, such as Hum’s Killer Nails. Courtesy Photo.

home care

With that new knowledge and well groomed nails in tow, I headed home vowing to keep these practices in mind to achieve my goal. Over the past two months I have worked to religiously moisturize, protect, keep clean and nourish my nails and hands. And the result? New year, new me indeed.

expert tips from cruelty-free nail salon Lila and Cata

Eco-friendly and effective nail care: The author’s nails – before, after, and present. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

Eco-Friendly Nail Care

That’s a wrap! Now promise us that you’ll treat yourself and your nails with care this year.

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For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier Newsletter hereAnd see luxury in a new light.

Jillian Tangen is the Head of Research at Dandelion Chandelier and a former Senior Research Analyst at McKinsey & Co and Analyst at Shearman & Sterling. She is an avid fan of Nordic design, having owned an independent lifestyle store and sales agency focused on emerging Scandinavian design. Jillian lives in New York and is married with three young children. She loves cross-country skiing, the New York Rangers, reading, travel and discovering new brands.

Jillian Tangen

Jillian is a lifestyle editor at Dandelion Chandelier covering topics like fashion, travel, entertainment and on occasion, even finance. She thinks there’s no such thing as having too many sweaters.