For cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, self-care is essential to help maintain self-esteem and mental well-being when suffering the side effects of treatment. A simple manicure can make a world of a difference. But it’s not always easy. Standard nail polish contains chemicals, including solvents, that can irritate patients’ sensitive fingernails, while its smell is often nauseating. The high concentration of acetone in nail polish remover can also make it painful, even hazardous, to remove.
“I lost my mother to stomach cancer back in 2010,” says Hitomi Goto, who gives manicures to patients at a Tokyo hospital on a voluntary basis. “Two years later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. But I was lucky. It was discovered early, so I didn’t need chemotherapy.”
Goto took this as a sign to find a way to help chemo patients through their ordeals. Recalling her mother’s discolored nails from the treatment and knowing how dispiriting that can be, she decided to become a cancer patient nail artist.
Finding alcohol-free varnish that did not require a toxic remover, however, proved problematic.
“I searched online (in Japanese) to find an alcohol-free polish, but there were no results,” she says. “So instead, I began searching in English, with the help of Google translations.”
Her efforts led her to discovery of water permeable halal-certified nail polish. In Islam, traditional nail polish, which isn’t water permeable, is thought to hinder wudu, the ablution process that Muslims perform before prayer. Since the ritual requires that water reaches nails, wearing traditional polish would result in incomplete wudu and invalidate the prayer.
Though it was less the water permeability of nail polish that first interested Goto than the fact that it could be peeled off and removed without acetone, finding halal products, which are all alcohol free, opened the door to more options for her venture.
The permeability also allows nails to “breathe,” so natural oils in nails are not trapped, making it a much less damaging alternative to traditional varnish.
But there was one problem. After trying a Canadian brand of halal polish, she discovered that it wasn’t long lasting, sometimes beginning to peel off within a few hours. So Goto began searching for an alternative.
She didn’t need to look far. The hospital Goto volunteers at twice a month provided her with Bio Water Nail polish to use. And it turned out to be the solution she was looking for. Unlike the peelable kind she had tried, this new nail polish can last a week without chipping and can be removed easily with an ethanol wipe, which is far less damaging than most nail polish removers.
She also had the nail polish’s permeability examined by a medical institution and, although it is not halal certified, it passed the test, making it suitable for wudu.
For cancer patients, the polish has no strong chemical smell and is kinder to the nails and skin. For Muslim customers, who Goto now also caters for, it’s permeable to water and just as attractive as any other halal-certified nail polish.
“I realize some Muslim women are not comfortable using non certified products, but adding that official sticker really bumps up the price,” says Goto. “That’s why I offer them the two options: the halal-certified polish that isn’t so long lasting, and the non certified one that lasts, and is more affordable.”
Goto’s nail service has uncovered a demand for halal and less damaging nail polish in Japan. The Facebook page for her Halal Nail Tokyo, an at-home reservation-only nail-care service, currently has more than 41,000 likes and an average rating of five out of five stars. For many clients, having nails painted in the comfort of their own homes is the draw, while some of the Muslim customers have expressed delight at having their nails done for the first time ever.
For Goto, the introduction to halal has also sparked in her a new interest. After attending a Halal Expo to showcase her service, she met the staff of Saido, a halal vegan restaurant in Tokyo’s Jiyugaoka neighborhood, and learned more about the halal diet. Now, when not painting nails, Goto spends her time as the manager for Saido.
“I believe what’s good for patients is good for everyone. That’s why I feel a connection with Muslims, because they are very cautious of what they put in their bodies due to their faith,” she says. “Seeing how much they care about the purity of wudu made me realize how important breathability in nail polish is. This is something I want more Japanese people to know.”
For more information about Halal Nail Tokyo, visit www.halalnail-tokyo.jp.
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