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US salons will employ more than 100,000 workers by 2022

Many nail salon workers are women of reproductive age who may be exposed to toxic chemicals.

Many nail salon workers are women of reproductive age who may be exposed to toxic chemicals.

When New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, JD, announced that her office was releasing a report on nail salons last year, it was anything but a frivolous task.

The policy report, “How Safe is Your Nail Salon?,” released in September, took a look at health and safety practices for both consumers and workers in New York City’s nail salons.

And with more than 2,000 businesses licensed to do manicures and pedicures in the city alone, the health of a large swath of the public is affected. In New York, the salons are regulated by the state — which has just 27 inspectors to help maintain their safety, James told The Nation’s Health.

The health and wellness of nail salon employees is no small matter, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated there were 86,900 manicurists and pedicurists in the U.S. in 2012. That number is expected to rise to 100,400 by 2022.

But that estimate is probably far too low, according to the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, which estimates there are 97,100 manicurists in California alone right now.

Up to 80 percent of those workers are Vietnamese immigrants, and more than 50 percent are women of reproductive age.

Duyen Tran, MPH, an APHA member and the interim outreach coordinator for the collaborative, says there are several reasons that nail salon work appeals to young women in the Vietnamese community.

Some of it is the flexibility working in a nail salon can afford: Employees can tailor their schedules around their families’ needs. Another reason is the ease with which a worker can enter into the industry and start making money. Training courses, which are 12 to 18 months long, and exams are offered in Vietnamese.

“To do nail salon work you don’t need high English proficiency,” Tran told The Nation’s Health. “It doesn’t require intensive English training, so it’s really an opportunity for this recent immigrant population to enter the workforce and use it to support their families and communities in a very short time.”

But joining the workforce means exposure to known dangerous products — and potentially unknown dangers, as well.

Three chemicals pose most risks to workers

The biggest risks to nail salon workers are “the toxic trio:” Toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate are the most common and dangerous ingredients in nail products, including polish and polish remover, that have been linked to serious health risks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, toluene exposure has been linked to tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite and hearing and color vision loss. High levels of exposure have been linked to kidney damage.

Formaldehyde exposure can lead to irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, causing tearing, and skin irritation, according to CDC, and is a known carcinogen. CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes that dibutyl phthalate is linked to organ development issues in fetuses when exposed during gestation.

The toxic trio can be transmitted as airborne particles, through product contact with skin or eyes and via unintentional transfer of the materials to uncovered food, drink or cigarettes, according to research from the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has reported that chemical levels can exceed 826 parts per million during the application of acrylics in nail salons, but proper ventilation can drop that to 12.4 parts per million.

Despite these risks, in Nails Magazine’s 2014-15 report, “Nails Big Book: Everything You Need to Know About the Nail Industry,” 34 percent of nail salon workers reported that they never wear protective gloves while working. Sixty-one percent said they never wear a mask while working. And more than half reported having work-related health concerns. Twenty-three percent said they were uninsured.

Salons can promote safety for workers

Though self-reported low numbers of nail salon workers take safety precautions, state and federal government regulations require certain steps to be taken to ensure worker safety. OSHA distributes “Stay Healthy and Safe While Giving Manicures and Pedicures: A Guide for Nail Salon Workers,” which outlines workers’ rights to health and safety for both employees and salon owners.

The guide has been translated to Vietnamese, Spanish and Korean. And OSHA has been working to reach out to communities to make sure workers’ rights are well-known, said Mandy Edens, MSPH, director of OSHA’s directorate for technical support and emergency management.

Source: The Nation’s Health; The article has been edited for length.

Concerned about chemical fumes in your salon or spa? Electrocorp has designed a wide range of indoor air cleaners for the beauty industry, which can remove airborne chemicals and particles, including toluene and formaldehyde. Contact Electrocorp for more information and a free consultation. Call 1-866-667-0297 or write to


Beautiful hair may come at a price: Many salon workers and clients are exposed to chemicals.

What are hair salon hazards?

Chemicals used in the beauty industry are unregulated, and many release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carcinogens.

Studies show that hairdressers have triple the risk of developing breast cancer and are more likely to develop leukemia and multiple myeloma.

There is no limit to how far people will go for great looking hair.  The zeitgeist of the last decade is characterized by celebrity styles that go from dark to light, curly to straight and vice versa.

The problem with indoor air pollutants – and hair salon hazards – is that many of the effects are long term.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.6 million people will die every year as a result of indoor air pollution.

Poor indoor air quality in salons

In salons, masks and general ventilation systems offer little or no protection against airborne chemicals that may cause damage to the immune, reproductive, neurological and respiratory systems.

On a daily basis, hairdressers are exposed to several chemicals including ammonia, phenylenediamine (PPD), sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide. New trends like the Japanese and Brazilian straightening treatments add chemicals like formaldehyde to that roster.

Aside from causing hair loss, bruising and eczema like reaction on the scalp, Brazilian straightening treatments can cause lung inflammation, asthma, severe allergic reactions and death.

A list of toxic chemicals lurking in salons

  1. Ammonia
    Ammonia is used in hair dye to allow color molecules to penetrate.  Ammonia irritates the eyes, skin and respiratory tract, and may cause asthma and other breathing problems.
  2. Phenylenediamine (PPD)
    When it comes to hair dyes, Phenylenediamine (PPD) is the most common cause of allergic reactions.  This chemical is very toxic and when inhaled, it may cause damage to the liver, kidneys, nervous system and respiratory tract.  The fumes emitted by PPD also cause inflammation of the airways, which make it difficult to breathe.
  3. Sodium Hydroxide
    Sodium hydroxide is often used in hair relaxers and causes damage to the respiratory tract and severe pneumonitis.
  4. Formaldehyde
    Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.  Aside from being linked to cancer, it may cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, coughing and wheezing, as well as skin irritation.  This chemical is also used to embalm the departed.

Gaseous pollutants like VOCs are the result of a variety of hair processes.  Combined with the regular air contaminating culprits – mold, dust mites, ozone and petrochemicals – poor indoor air quality is a real hair salon hazard.

Air cleaners for hair and hail salons need to be equipped with at least 27 pounds of activated carbon, and several inches of carbon filter depth.

Additionally, an electrostatic pre-filter accompanied by a pleated HEPA filter will help trap particle contaminants.

For more information, contact Electrocorp.

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