Nina Tran knows the nail industry well: The daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, she worked at her family’s nail salons when she was in high school and college. Later, as an adult, she realized just how toxic nail chemicals were, particularly for nail workers like her mother. That realization was driven home when The New York Times published a chilling series of stories on poor working conditions and health risks faced by nail workers. So she decided to open her own eco-friendly salon. “My main motivation was my mom,” says the 34-year-old. “I wanted to help her.”
Agape is quiet and spalike, with reclaimed wood paneling on the wall, Zen music playing softly in the background and the scent of lavender, not chemicals, in the air. Tran uses only nontoxic nail products known as “5-free,” which are made without formaldehyde, camphor, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde resin or toluene. She makes all the salon’s body butters, scrubs and cuticle oils with natural ingredients. She’s also big on sanitation, cleaning nail tools in a medical-grade autoclave and using copper soaking bowls with disposable liners instead of the recirculating-water tubs found at most salons, which can harbor bacteria in their filtration and drain systems.
A member of Oakland-based California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, Tran offers her employees benefits such as sick leave. Now, her mom works for her. “It’s nice to know she’s in a better environment,” says Tran, who’d like to see other nail salons follow her lead. “If we all get together and provide a healthier environment for our clients and employees, it would change the industry.” 9667 E. Stockton Blvd., Elk Grove; (916) 236-3874; weloveagape.com