Test drive: Getting a waterless pedicure at Varnish Lane

Plus: Three other ecofriendly nail salons in Atlanta

Test drive: Getting a waterless pedicures at Varnish Lane
Varnish Lane

Photograph courtesy of Varnish Lane

There was a time when a waterless pedicure meant sitting awkwardly in a swivel chair, your feet in a nail technician’s lap while you looked longingly at the customers who could afford to pay extra to soak their toes and relax in massaging loungers. In recent years, though, these so-called “spa pedicures” have become the norm—and the environment has paid the price.

Water use has been increasing at twice the rate of global population growth, according to United Nations Water, and your footbath shares some of the blame, guzzling as much as 18 gallons at each appointment. That’s more than running water to wash dishes for five minutes, which uses about 15 gallons.

Now, though, some nail salons are minimizing or eliminating water use in an effort to preserve the environment and appeal to customers who care about sustainability.

“Our ultimate goal is to shift the consumer mindset about clean and green nail care, and to inspire other salons to engage in similar practices,” says Lauren Dunne, cofounder of D.C.-based Varnish Lane, which opened a waterless salon in Buckhead late last year. “We have saved more than 2.5 million gallons of water since opening in 2015.”

Varnish Lane also uses plant-based polish remover and polishes known as “eight-free”—free of the chemicals toluene, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, triphenyl phosphate, ethyl tosylamide, and xylene.

“They’re better for our skin and the planet,” Dunne says. “Additionally, all of our ecofriendly products that are used throughout our services are made locally in small batches, as opposed to being mass-produced and shipped from overseas.”

Though I care about the planet, I silently wondered whether I’d miss the water as I sunk into the comfy recliner for my appointment at Varnish Lane. Turns out, this new experience was even more relaxing than usual, with hot towels and fragrant lotion taking the place of a foot soak. With no worries about contracting a waterborne infection from an unclean basin, I fell sound asleep and awoke with perfectly pinked-up fingers and toes.

Other ecofriendly nail salons in Atlanta

Iwi Fresh
Yolanda Owens opened this Castleberry Hill spot in 2010. Its name is an acronym for “It is what it is” and represents her beauty products and services philosophy: There should be no mysteries when it comes to skin- and nail-care ingredients. No gel polishes here; she relies on vegetables, fruits, and herbs for her vegan nail services in this gardenlike spa. Owens also started offering waterless mani/pedis during the pandemic in 2020.

Purity Nails 21
This nontoxic, vegan, and cruelty-free nail salon is located on the BeltLine and forgoes whirlpool foot baths in favor of portable resin bowls that can be fully sanitized after each service. Soothing music and the smell of essential oils set the scene. —CVD

Lark & Sparrow
Lark & Sparrow

Photograph courtesy of Lark & Sparrow

Lark & Sparrow
Natural, organic, bespoke—these are just some of the words that describe this sweet, nontoxic, and cheerful Grant Park studio founded in 2015.

This article appears in our September 2022 issue.