Nail salon workers are at risk of respiratory illness and cancer.

Anyone who has passed a nail salon is familiar with the foul odors emitted by acrylic nails, paints, and removers. Customers receiving manicures and pedicures are temporarily inconvenienced by the odor, but manicurists who breath these evaporating chemicals for hours expose themselves to health concerns.

The odors are caused by volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are chemicals that easily turn into vapors or gases. These compounds have been best nail supply store near me associated to a variety of health issues, including headaches and respiratory irritation, as well as reproductive disorders and cancer. VOCs evaporate in a normal room-temperature atmosphere and are inhaled by humans.

Our study team, in collaboration with colleagues at Colorado State University, recently evaluated chemical exposures in six Colorado nail salons and discovered that staff were exposed to high amounts of VOCs throughout the day. Participants, who had worked in salons for up to 19 years, reported headaches as well as skin and eye irritation.

We evaluated benzene and formaldehyde levels in the salons and discovered that exposure to these known human carcinogens increased the workers’ lifetime cancer chances above one in one million – the amount that many U.S. agencies consider acceptable in regulating dangerous material exposure.

1. Identifying Health Risks

Underpayment and terrible working conditions in New York nail salons were highlighted in a 2015 New York Times exposé. It did not, however, address the chemical exposures that salon workers face on a daily basis.

Several study groups used standard measuring techniques and self-reported health questionnaires to describe and quantify VOC exposures in the nail shop environment. According to their findings, nail salon workers are exposed to higher levels of VOCs than they would be anticipated to encounter in most homes, vocations, or environments.

Ten VOCs were evaluated in our investigation, including the carcinogens benzene and formaldehyde. We discovered that VOC levels in the six salons we studied routinely surpassed standard odor and inhalation risk thresholds. Over a 20-year exposure period, this posed a considerable risk of cancer in some cases.

Twenty employees filled out surveys about their personal health. 70% of them reported some type of short-term health condition related to their job, and 40% reported many associated symptoms.

We worked together with salon owners to recruit volunteer nail technicians. Having the backing of the owners was critical because it allowed salon staff to accurately report on their health and working conditions without fear of retaliation.

2. Working in an Oil Refinery

Many people believe that cosmetology is a reasonably safe career, however this is not the case. We discovered that exposures to aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes – collectively known as BTEX – were similar to those previously reported in studies of oil refinery employees and auto mechanics.

Our outcomes are not unique. In 2018, an Iranian investigation discovered similar levels of benzene, ethylbenzene, and xylene in Tehran beauty salons. Another research that year in Michigan discovered toluene concentrations of more than 100 parts per billion, which is nearly 30 times higher than reported metropolitan outdoor levels.

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Regulation of this type of workplace exposure has lagged behind scientific advances. Many occupational safety and health exposure standards in the United States have not been revised in nearly a decade.

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, freely admits that many of its allowable exposure limits are “outdated and inadequate for ensuring worker health protection.”

OSHA simply provides firms with information and recommendations, thereby leaving the burden of worker protection to private sector. This is especially troublesome in the nail salon industry, as over 90% of salons employ fewer than 5 workers and do not have on-staff safety personnel.

Inadequate cosmetic product rules and labeling requirements make it difficult to determine whether goods are safe. According to a 2012 California Environmental Protection Agency research, ten out of twelve nail products branded “toluene free” nevertheless contained up to 17% toluene. ones branded devoid of the so-called “toxic three” substances – dibutyl phthalate or DBP, toluene, and formaldehyde – actually contained higher levels of DBP, an endocrine disruptor, than ones with no claims at all.

3. Resolving the Issue

OSHA Owners frequently work in nail salons, thus they generally support efforts to enhance indoor air quality. Those we interviewed had a general awareness of the problem and a desire to solve it, but they didn’t necessarily know how.

Healthy nail salon instructions are available from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and OSHA. Despite this, the owners in our survey had never heard of them, possibly because the instructions are only available in English, and many nail salon staff are Asian and Latino immigrants with low English abilities.

Several grassroots community organizations in both Vietnamese and Chinese have released instructions to enhancing salon air quality. These references cover ventilation and the use of personal protective equipment, both of which are critical for reducing chemical exposures in the workplace.

Small adjustments, such as using constant ventilation, nitrile gloves, and adequate charcoal face masks, can drastically limit worker exposure. According to the findings of our most recent study, installing huge activated carbon sinks in salons could effectively remove VOCs from the air. We’re currently experimenting with incorporating these chemical-absorbing materials into works of art that can be displayed on salon walls.

Another responsibility is spreading the word and campaigning for increased safety instruction in cosmetology certification programs. Education and training are especially critical for ethnic minority populations.

Many OSHA-enforced workplace requirements, such as those governing toxic and hazardous material exposure, apply to nail salons. Cosmetic makers, on the other hand, are not required to get government approval for products or ingredients before they are placed on the market, nor are they required to share product information with the agency.

California, on the other hand, approved legislation in 2018 requiring manufacturers to give ingredient labels on any professional cosmetic goods developed after July 1, 2020 and sold in the state. Advocacy groups such as the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative spearheaded the push for this common-sense legislation. Practical initiatives like this can help workers who receive little attention but face substantial health dangers on the job every day.

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