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When she envisioned starting a nail salon – a dream realized when she opened Treat Nail Lounge at 2118 Central St. last month – Jenny Fennell knew it had to be distinctive. After all, Evanston has umpteen other manicure-pedicure destinations.

Visiting a multitude of city and suburban nail establishments, Ms. Fennell came away with two strong impressions. First, she says, she “was not happy with how other salons clean their tools.” And second, she noticed that price often did not correlate with service. Paying $50 for a pedicure, she says, did not always mean getting special treatment.

Besides, she says, “Many [salons] look kind of ‘tired.’” She says she believed Evanston would appreciate a pristine nail parlor that was “upscale, calm, relaxing,” and set as her goal a place “with a medium price point and high-end service.”

To further differentiate Treat, she stocked it with eco-friendly products – nontoxic polish and remover and organic lotions and scrubs she refers to as “green chic for hands and feet.” Nail and spa appointments incorporate natural elements such as finger- and footbaths refreshed with floating flower petals or citrus or cucumber slices. No acrylic nail services are offered.

To ensure that tools are sterile, Ms. Fennell purchased an autoclave, “just like in a dentist’s office,” she says. Metal instruments like clippers and scissors are carefully sealed, then heated in the machine. Technicians discard nail implements – files, buffers, etc. – after one use. “We don’t even go from the feet to the hands” of a single customer, says Linda, one of seven or eight full-and part-time nail technicians at Treat.

Though Ms. Fennell is counting on customers who appreciate her emphasis on natural, the greatest beneficiaries of the salon’s non-toxic products may be the nail technicians who are exposed to them for hours at a time. Linda, who has worked at various Chicago nail salons over the past 15 years, says she is glad to be using gentler materials – and not doing acrylic nails. “It’s good for the workers,” she says. “We’re here all day.”

Concern about the health of nail-service workers has been mounting. A September 2007 article in The Nation notes, “The polishes, acrylics and other products used in nail salons contain some 20 chemicals flagged as having ‘potential symptoms and health effects’ by the Environmental Protection Agency.” Among them are formaldehyde, toluene and ethyl ketone. But most contentious is dibutyl phthalate, a plasticizer that may be linked to birth defects and/or toxic to the reproductive system.

A 2007 California law enacted to protect the state’s nail-salon workers requires cosmetics makers to reveal potentially harmful ingredients in their products. Still, precious few of the 10,000 chemicals used in cosmetics have been evaluated for safety, and the industry is virtually unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Treat is in the vanguard of salons taking a spa approach to nail services with the use of natural products. One whiff tells the tale: The air inside Treat, Ms. Fennell points out, has “no nail-salon smell.” Amid the cozy Central Street boutiques, Treat’s cool, modern décor stands out. Ms. Fennell’s transformation of the former realtors’ office at 2118 Central St. began April 1 with a total demolition. The space emerged from under wraps on Aug. 4 with a stunning new look.

The effect is clean contemporary: white walls, ceiling and Corian countertop; creamy white leather furniture, including a couch in the window waiting area, seats at the manicure bar and overstuffed pedicure chairs; and spare cabinets and shelving built to order of oak stained a dark espresso color. But most striking is a long wall-hung panel of clear resin embedded with real grass and backlit to shimmer a summery green.

Thirty-five dollars buys a long, leisurely pedicure – 45 minutes to an hour – that begins in a footbath of lemon-lime water and includes a scrub with an organic exfoliator, a massage with organic cream and swaddling in a warm, moist towel. To finish, customers can choose from three lines of eco-friendly polishes.

Menu options for “Treat Princesses” 12 and under are attracting the young. On a recent Monday a gaggle of middle-school girls exchange opinions about Haven and St. Athanasius, and the mom of a tiny preschooler holds the hand of her princess-in-waiting.

That is exactly the neighborhood ambience Ms. Fennell had in mind. A native of Korea, who ran a women’s clothing business there for seven years, she has been in this country for ten. Her husband is an Evanstonian, and she hopes she has created a place “like a beauty salon,” she says, where women meet and talk with friends.

“A woman needs a special treat,” she says.