in partnership
Many of Varnish Lane's clients are working women popping in when they can, but not able to fully disconnect during a service. But Varnish Lane is so quiet and peaceful that many women are able to still work during their treatment. (Image: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/ DC Refined)

The nail salon that's saving the environment one pedicure at a time

Finding a nail salon in D.C. is like finding a Starbucks in [enter any big city here] -- they are a dime a dozen! But finding a GREAT nail salon-- you know, one that is clean, safe, quiet,well-designed, won't rush you in and out in 15 minutes and has an abundance of color choices -- is another story. And when you do, you want to shout the great news from the roof, because sharing is caring, right? Well, friends, today we are feeling quite caring.

Varnish Lane isn't new, they opened in February 2015, but they were new to me as I had yet to find myself out and about in their Friendship Heights neighborhood. But with Fourth of July just around the corner, my nails were in dire need of some TLC so I popped in and had a chat with co-founder Lauren Dunne. She gave me the rundown on what sets Varnish Lane apart, why you won't be soaking your feet before a pedicure when you go and what we should be doing to take care of our nails in the summer.

Ok, I have to ask, where are the pedicure tubs??

We don't have any! Varnish Lane is 100 percent a waterless salon.

Can you tell me what that means and why it was so important to you?

It means we won't soak your hands or feet in water before or during any of our services. It is actually much cleaner and safer that way, as water is the main source of infection for nail salons. Plus, water logs your skin which is really bad for both your skin and your manicure. When you soak your nails in water, they expand, but then hours later after your polish has dried, they shrink back to their normal size, which is what causes your polish to chip; it's the same reason why polish chips if you wash your hands a lot. And when your skin is waterlogged, it's not absorbing any other moisturizing products, so by not soaking your hands or feet, your skin and cuticles will actually absorb the massage butter and other products we put on so much better. The products we use, which are 100 percent chemical free and so natural you could eat them, do a much better job at naturally softening your skin without changing the size or shape of your nails. It was important because I can't tell you the number of times we have clients come in and say ' I had an infection from a nail salon once so I haven't had a pedicure in 10 years.' I just didn't think that was right and knew I could do something about it.

What is the environmental effect of being a waterless salon?

We are actually able to save up to 18 gallons of water per pedicure by not using water, so it is incredibly environmentally-friendly. Obviously, that is great, but the safety really was the driving factor for us. Especially with those whirlpool chairs, they are supposed to have a cleaner run through them for 10 minutes between every service -- that never happens. There are so many benefits to not using the water in services that I really don't know why people are still using it at all.

What was the motivation behind opening Varnish Lane when there are already hundreds of nail salons in D.C.?

I grew up in D.C., actually just a few streets down from [Varnish Lane], with three sisters and we have always loved getting our nails done together, with our mom; it was a way to bond. But we never felt like there was truly a place that was clean, safe and still affordable and easily accessible. There wasn't anything in between the run-of-the-mill average salons and the super high-end spas. I used to be a wedding planner here in D.C. but found myself in a transitional phase of life, and my mom really wanted to start a business, so we did it together!

How do you set yourself apart?

Well beyond being waterless, which we were the first in the country to try, we offer services in a truly beautiful, relaxing environment. You come in and you are offered a drink, your chair has an iPad loaded with magazines, you have tons of 5-free, designer brand polishes to choose from and all our products are natural and locally made, which is important to a lot of people. Also, for our gel manicure, which is one of our most popular services, we use 7-free polishes and use LED lights instead of UV, which is again much better for your skin and nails.

What is the aesthetic vibe you are going for at Varnish Lane?

My mom used to be an interior designer, so that is really her domain, but we really wanted it to feel like someone's living room. We want to be chic, but still comfortable. I love the touch of black and marble and all the gold fixtures.

Talk to me about summer nail maintenance. What should we be doing to take care of our nails this time of year?

A lot of people only think about dry skin in the winter, but summer is a really harsh time for skin -- the sun, the chlorine, even the salt water all dries out our skin. So moisturizing is super important in the summer, especially on your cuticles. We are also walking around in sandals and hitting up the beach, so people see our feet more making it all the more important to keep them cared for. I recommend cuticle oil and using a balm on your feet every day.

What is trendy right now for nails?

One of our most popular colors, and a personal favorite of mine, is the one I currently have on my toes -- this kind of purple/blue shade. We are getting a lot of requests for that. And coral is always a classic this time of year. I pretty much keep this shade on my toes and coral on my fingers all summer. Nail art is also big, but it is more geometric right now versus people saying 'draw a cupcake on my finger.' It's subtle, like a gold line or a diagonal across the nail -- just a fun way to add something to your manicure that is sill professional.