It has been more than a week since Sara went back to work at her small nail salon in North Seattle. After experiencing her fourth miscarriage, she took the time off to grieve. The other technicians she works with are sympathetic upon her arrival; Ms. Otavalo at the front desk lost her would-be third child last spring. Monica is mother to a three-year-old son who is developmentally behind in every way. These are not isolated incidents: nail technicians in every state have been speaking up about their failing health and how it is affecting their families.
What is going on in nail salons?
Technicians come into contact with a wide array of chemicals, and some of them are extremely harmful. Within the United States, it is estimated that 96% of nail technicians are women and they are concerned about the chemicals they come into contact with on the job. This concern is for good reason; some of the chemicals present in nail salons include toulene and dibutyl phthalatesare, which are known endocrine disruptors.
Nail technicians are usually warned about the potential harm that can be caused by exposure to nail salon chemicals. The fastest way nail technicians are exposed to chemicals is by breathing their fumes. When filing and buffing nails, especially artificial nails—sometimes made with the chemicals above—the chemicals can enter the technician’s body. Additionally, vapors from acrylic liquid or other nail salon products evaporate into the air that technicians and customers breathe.
There have been a growing number of studies conducted on the health implications of long-term exposure to endocrine disruptors. While research is still ongoing, these chemicals, by definition, interfere with the body’s reproductive system.
While nail technicians are warned about the adverse effects of these chemicals, they do not need to be told the consequences. They are living with repeated lost pregnancies and parenting young children with developmental disorders.
Toulene and dibutyl phthalatesare are two of the toxic trio of salon chemicals putting nail technicians at risk.
While these chemicals may not affect consumers, long-term exposure has different consequences for nail technicians.
Concerned about salon chemicals?
Other Health Concerns
These chemicals don’t just affect reproductive health. Workers struggle with physical side effects of exposure both at work and once they are home.
“A study of nail-salon workers in Boston revealed that 44 percent experienced headaches that diminished after they left work, and 28 percent felt light-headed or had difficulty concentrating at work.” According to Safety and Health Magazine.
These side effects make it difficult for nail technicians to do their best at work and live full lives off the job.
Besides chemical exposure, there are other health risks nail technicians face. If they do not properly protect themselves, they can be exposed to blood-borne pathogens or fungal diseases by working with clients’ hands and feet.
All of these health concerns pose a serious question:
What is being done to protect workers?
There is a lot that can be done to prevent technicians from breathing in these harmful chemicals. Many salons are switching to ventilated work tables that push dust and fumes away from the faces of the technicians and customers. There are also regulations in place to ensure that salons have more than one entry/exit point for air, and in some states they are required to have a ventilation system to assist in this process.
National organizations and government agencies are taking notice of these health concerns and are pushing for changes within salons. Organizations including the California Health Nail Salon Collaborative, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are working to educate nail technicians and salon owners in multiple languages about the risk salon chemicals pose and how salons can reduce the impact.
Salon owners also need to be educated about proper barrier protection products to keep technicians safe. This includes facemasks and disposable gloves for protection against chemicals as well as blood-borne pathogens. Masks and disposable gloves are necessary to keep nail techs safe:
- CDC - Nail Technicians’ Health and Workplace Exposure Control. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/manicure/?s_cid=3ni7d2fb082020111130am
- Dangerous beauty: Salon worker health is in the spotlight. (2015, October). Retrieved April 21, 2017, from http://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/12930-nail-salon-workers-health
- (n.d.). Controlling Chemical Hazards During the Application of Artificial Fingernails (NIOSH Hazard Controls No. HC 28).
- Endocrine Disruptors. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2017, from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/
- (n.d.). Health Hazards in Nail Salons (Course 609 Study Guide). Retrieved from https://www.oshatrain.org/courses/studyguides/609studyguide.pdf
- Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers. (2015, May 8). [News]. Retrieved April 21, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/11/nyregion/nail-salon-workers-in-nyc-face-hazardous-chemicals.html?_r=2
- Safety and Health Topics | Health Hazards in Nail Salons - Biological Hazards | Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/nailsalons/biohazards.html
- Understanding the Toxic Trio; Protecting yourself at work... A Guide for the Nail Salon Workforce. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cahealthynailsalons.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Toxic_Trio_EN_March2012.pdf