When Nhu-Hong Le opened her nail salon, she had her older sister, environmental engineer Nhu-Ha Le, looking over her shoulder. What the elder Le realized by watching her sister work was that manicurists needed to minimize their exposure to the chemicals commonly found in the nail salon. So she devised a unique way of doing that: Lena’s NailSafe System.

“I thought of developing something to put your hands in, an isolation chamber essentially, so the vapors would pour out from the top through a tube and exhaust outside, and the dust would settle in the bottom,” she says.

The transparent chamber, which is made of Acrylite polymer, is entirely enclosed, with two oval ports on either side for the hands of both the customer and the technician. Elastic bands seal at the wrists so it’s nearly airtight. On top of the chamber, a vent fastens to a low-pressure fan where the discharged vapors pass through a carbon filter to remove contaminants from the air before returning it to the salon. Beneath the chamber, an outlet connects to a dust-collection system powered by a motorized fan.

Le, a native of Vietnam who studied chemical engineering at North Carolina State University, has a patent pending on her invention. Le says the system is difficult to use in the beginning, but insists it becomes easier with practice. The obvious downside to the NailSafe System is that the cumbersome device obstructs the flow of conversation and limits the socializing that often goes on between manicurist and customer.

Presently, the system is being used in both of Lena’s Nails locations in Hockessin and Eilmington, Del., and Le is looking to expand the unit’s use.

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