Healthy Nail Salons: A Right, Not A Privilege

As you may already know, nail salons routinely use products that contain  toxic chemicals.  These dangerous cosmetics can lead to poor indoor air quality. With over 200,000 nail salons in the US, this environmental health crisis affects over 375,000 employees and their families. You, as a customer may also be at risk.

Photo Courtesy: www.asianfortunenews.com
Photo Courtesy: www.asianfortunenews.com

Sarah Maslin Nir, New York Times author of Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers chronicles the dangers of these chemicals to nail technicians.  She interviewed over 120 salon workers in New York City over thirteen months and learned about the working conditions and health problems these women struggle with. The report is profoundly upsetting; it’s time for a change.

Here, we will explore some of the chemicals culprits in cosmetics and the health risks they pose to us. Than, we will look at the solutions.

Nail salon treatments include the use of nail polish, nail polish remover, acrylic nails, adhesives and adhesive removers. The FDA does not perform premarket testing of cosmetic products. That means that you and your nail technician are being exposed to chemicals that may or may not be safe. Who’s got your back?

David Frome & Leslie Reichert's Radio Interview About Healthy Nail Salons Photo courtesy: www.pixgood.com
David Frome & Leslie Reichert’s Radio Interview About Healthy Nail Salons
Photo courtesy: www.pixgood.com

Toxic exposure to salon chemicals can occur in three primary ways:

  1. As a liquid through the skin – If a nail care product gets on your skin, it can be absorbed into the body.
  2. As a vapor though the mouth, nose and eyes – Nail care products are volatile and affect the salon’s indoor air quality (IAQ).  You smell the fumes and these chemicals enter your body as you breath.
  3. As particles through your mouth and nose – The shaping of nails and artificial nails creates dust that can also lead to poor IAQ. These particles enter your body as you breath.

Nail polish often contains three chemicals that have been nicknamed “The Toxic Trio.”  They are formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and toluene. Each of these volatile substances emit toxic gasses or vapors and affect the salon’s air quality. Additionally, Ethyl methacrylate (EMA,) a fourth potential scoundrel is used in making acrylic nails. During the shaping process, EMA dust particles become airborne.

Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen. The National Toxicology Program.  Exposure to formaldehyde increases the incidence of brain cancer, leukemia, nasopharyngeal cancer and sinonasal cancer. NIH (National Institute of Health.)  Formaldehyde also induces headaches, respiratory allergies, asthma like symptoms and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat.
Formaldehyde is used to harden nails and is used to straighten hair (BKT.)  To make matters more complicated, formaldehyde has many pseudonyms including formalin, formic aldehyde, methanal, methylene glycol, methylene oxide, oxomethane, oxymethylene and paraform.

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) has been associated with endocrine disruption, resulting in infertility amongst salon technicians and impaired sexual maturation in the children of salon workers.  It also causes nausea, as well as irritations to the skin, eyes, nose, mouth and throat. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
DBP is a plasticizer used to make nail polish softer and more resistant to chipping. DBP was banned by the European Union in 1999 but is still popular in the USA. DBP is a member of the phthalate family that includes; Diethyl Phthalate (DEP) and Diethylhexyl Phthalate (DEHP.)

Toluene is a neurotoxin that has been associated with confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, headaches, depression, loss of consciousness and death.  It may also damage your kidneys, liver and heart.  National Institute of Health (NIH) Toluene may be detrimental to unborn babies during pregnancy.
Toluene is a solvent used in nail polish, nail hardeners and nail polish remover.

Ethyl methacrylate (EMA) is also hazardous.  EMA can result in irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and mouth.  It also impairs concentration and can make you feel dizzy.  NJ Dept. of Health – Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet.   EMA also increases the incidence of asthma and may be detrimental to unborn babies during pregnancy. Nail Salons Chemical Hazards – OSHA  EMA is used to make artificial nails.

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) does not require commercial cosmetic products to list the chemical ingredients. That means in nail salons, no labeling is required.  And as we stated earlier, there is no premarket testing of cosmetics. What’s in the bottle? Is it safe? Who knows?  I believe you have a right to know.

Three Solutions: Clean Air Is Everyone’s Concern.

1.  Do away with toxic nail products.
  • Products need to be reformulated to be environmentally friendly.
  • The safety of each product needs to be established before it reaches the market place.
  • Deceptive labeling of cosmetics should not be tolerated.
  • Salon workers voices must be heard and should be central to the governance of this industry. Create safety panels that include members of grass roots organizations of salon workers.  Empower the women of Adhikaar, the Nepali human rights organization, The California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative and The New York Healthy Nail Coalition to help regulate the industry.
  • Set standards, evaluate and endorse Green Nail Salons.
  • Follow San Francisco’s lead with Healthy Nail Salon Recognition awards.

2. Use powerful ventilation – Salon stations need robust exhaust tables.  These tables draw fumes and particles down and away from the salon workers and patrons.  Salons also need air exchanges to change the air in the salon as a whole. – outside air is brought inside and inside air is exhausted to the outside. system for the salon as a whole.

3. Catch the chumps – The Austin Air HealthMate Plus™ is a remarkable air cleaner for both airborne particles and chemicals. It has over 15lbs of activated charcoal blended with zeolite and the chemisorber potassium iodide, to help to breakdown chemicals into small molecules that are more easily adsorbed.

For particles The HealthMate Plus has over 60 square feet of HEPA media (High Efficiency Particulate Arresting) HEPA is the highest standard in filtration.   It catches 99.7 percent of all particulates larger than 0.3 microns and 95 percent of all particles large than 0.1 microns. This unit has a powerful fan that moves over 250 feet of air per minute and helps to removes acetate, acetone, formaldehyde, toluene and EMA from the air.

David Frome, physical therapist and acupuncturist is a recognized leader in the field of environmental health in the tri-state region. He is on a mission to help other people improve their lives by improving the quality of their indoor air. His company, The Air Cleaner Store offers high quality air cleaning solutions including the Austin Air HealthMate Plus.  For more information, contact 973.820.8719 or Email Us.

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