I don’t get my nails done in a salon very often. I’m fortunate to have the kind of nails that grow well, have a nice natural color and shape to them, and don’t need much grooming. But I do treat myself to a manicure now and then just for the pleasure and the tidiness of it. When I do, I’ve always tried to opt for salons that don’t specialize in acrylics. There’s always such an overpowering chemical smell walking into one of those places, and when I walk into one I’ve never tried before and it has that smell, I usually just turn right around and walk back out.

I’ve commented to friends from time to time, too, that if all those chemicals smell that bad, they can’t be good for the health of the people who work there. Now a study has shown that the chemicals in nail treatments are associated with higher incidences of birth defects, and that the intensity of exposure for salon workers is 1200 times that of the average American. But to my surprise, it’s not only the acrylics that are implicated: it’s regular nail polish, too. Three compounds regularly used in nail salons — toluene (a colorless liquid used as a solvent), formaldehyde (helps harden nails) and dibutyl phthalate (a plasticizer that makes nail polish flexible) — are known to cause cancer or birth defects.

In fact, after six Vietnamese nail salon workers in Springfield, Massachusetts miscarried and others had rashes, fungal infections, and asthma, a community group obtained a $100,000 grant to build a salon with high quality ventilation. Moreover, OPI Products, which produces the nail polish used in many salons, “announced in March that it would begin removing toluene from its products. Last year, the company said it was removing dibutyl phthalate.”

So it looks like there’s hope for improvement, but I’m still not convinced that the acrylics aren’t horrible, too. I mean, even if they didn’t cause health issues, I’m still stuck on the superficial smell issue. Seriously, can you imagine having to spend 8-12 hours a day surrounded by that stench? Those are some dreadful working conditions. Luckily, improving the ventilation in salons should help with that problem, too.

HT: Jezebel

That stinks!

4 thoughts on “That stinks!

  • August 28, 2007 at 10:40 am

    The ACGIH limit for toluene is 50 parts per million averaged over 8 hours. Two studies (Little & UC Berkely) put the odor threshold (when you can smell it) at just over 2 ppm.

    I wouldn’t be overly concerned about levels in a typical nail salon. Though I always recommend plenty of ventilation.

  • August 28, 2007 at 10:46 am

    Thanks for the additional info. I’m not that concerned about it for myself (other than avoiding the smell) — I’m more concerned about the working conditions of the employees.

  • August 28, 2007 at 10:49 am

    OMG!! I’m so glad to see you write this.

    I’ve been absolutely beside myself over nail salons for years.

    I worked in a company where we used many of the same chemicals you see in a nail salon in order to mock up our sales samples for pre-press sales calls.

    OSHA strictly regulated our sporadic use of these chemicals, requiring safe ventilation, gas masks for employees working in the Comp Room, etc.

    That was for people who were around the stuff a few hours a month.

    I’ve always wondered why nail salons aren’t regulated the same way. I do know that at one point they (nail salons) were in the top three for minority-owned businesses and there’s a part of me that’s always felt that it was a “screw ’em, they’re just women” reaction that kept OSHA from policing those joints.

    Regardless, I never patronise nail salons, partially for that reason.

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