Glossed Over: Nail Salon Issues


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Apr 24, 2012
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While getting ready for any event, what is the first thing you do? – ‘Get your nails did’, of course! As you enter the salon, you first choose the service you want, the nail polish color, and its smooth sailing from then on! Sit back in that massage chair, relax and escape for a couple of hours into a world of luxurious pampering before your event.

Ignorance is bliss. Let me tell you it is definitely not smooth sailing from here. Mentioned in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ ‘Story of Cosmetics’, the government under regulates cosmetic products and nail salon products today. Nail salon products consist of hazardous chemicals and release harmful fumes into the air.
Are you only going to the salon once a week, once a month, or every 3 months to your nails done? You are still at risk because your body builds up these chemicals over time with each visit to the salon.

Nail technicians have it even worse ---they are inhaling and being exposed to chemicals every day. A study in the American Journal of Public Health show that women in contact with these chemicals have heightened health risks (Thu Quach, 2011). The study reports that “one-third of the women reported health problems like headaches, irritations, nausea, and breathing problems since they started working at a nail salon. Nose, throat, lungs, skin, eye irritations were the most common complaints by the participants reported by 25.6 percent of them.” In the Boston area, most nail technicians are Vietnamese women of childbearing age. In addition to reproductive and general health concerns, this minority community is at increased risk of developing Type II diabetes and respiratory problems.

Twelve Brandeis University students (including yours truly) recently conducted a studyon measuring the air quality and ventilation of nails salon throughout Boston. Conclusions include carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in 15 of 21 salons exceeded 800 parts per million (ppm) and higher total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) (potential toxins) and Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5) (linked to respiratory problems) in salons indicating poor ventilation. TVOCS, PM2.5, and excessive CO2 levels that remain in the air can be harmful to a nail technician’s health, especially during childbearing years.

There are no chemical replacements for many of the products used in salons, such as ethyl methacrylate used in artificial nails. However, some nail polish companies have voluntarily eliminated the ‘toxic trio’ of, phthalates, toluene and formaldehyde., Thus, the Boston Public Health Commissionhas set up the Safe Nail Salon Projectto assist nail technicians in doing their jobs safely. The Safe Salon Project created new nail salon health and safety regulationsthat went into effect on July 13, 2011 to protect consumers from obtaining infections and diseases from salons. Some of these regulations include:

Keep chemicals out of the air by storing them in closed and labeled containers and requiring lidded waste baskets at each manicuring station.
Develop a ventilation plan to create a system that draws fresh air from the outside into the salon and exhausts dirty air to the outside.
Ensure that multi-use (non-porous) tools are properly disinfected between each customer for customer safety.
Ensure that single-use items (pumice stones / toe separators / flip-flops / etc.) are NEVER re-used on a customer.
Ensure that foot spas are disinfectedbetween each customer.

The Safe Salon project has also developed a fun cootie catcherfull of tips for you:

Not shaving or waxing your legs within 24 hours of getting a pedicure.
Ask for clean single use tools (pumice stones / flip flops / toe separators) that haven’t been used on anyone else.
Make sure that reusable (metal / non-porous) tools have been disinfected before they are used on you.
Avoid polishes that contain the ‘Toxic Trio’ of formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate.
Find out what is in your favorite brands of nail polish with the SkinDeep cosmetics database.
Report concerns about Boston nail salons to the Boston Public Health Commissionat 617-534-5965.
Help protect the Vietnamese community who run these salons in the Boston Area. Recommend that your salon participate in free Safe Nail Salon trainings(offered only in Boston)
Support the Safe Cosmetics Act by sending your state representative a lettervia online. (It takes 2 seconds, I swear!)
Ladies, let this information marinate in your minds! I don’t want to discourage you from getting your nails done, but to definitely make you more conscious when walking into a nail salon as to what you can do as a consumer. Stay Beautiful!
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