Last month in Toxic Indoor Air in Nail Salons, Part I, we highlighted the problem of indoor air pollution in nail salons and delved into some difficult issues regarding why certain populations are particularly vulnerable to nail salons' toxic effects.
This month, we'll take a closer look at which specific chemicals can be found in nail salons and why they are so harmful. We'll also explore the ways in which nail salon owners can protect themselves, employees, and their customers.
Nail Salon Chemicals and Their Effects
An article on Tox Town: Environmental Health Concerns and Toxic Chemicals Where You Live, Work, and Play touches on some of the poisonous chemicals that are typically found in most nail salons and the problems they are known to cause or are suspected of causing:
- Benzene - cancer; short-term exposure to high levels affects the central nervous system, and can cause paralysis, coma, convulsions, dizziness, sleepiness, rapid heart rate, tightness of the chest, tremors, and rapid breathing, among other symptoms.
- Formaldehyde - cancer; exposure to low levels can irritate and burn the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. In women, exposure can cause menstrual disorders. People with asthma may be more sensitive to formaldehyde exposure.
- Acetone - Breathing moderate-to-high levels of acetone for short periods of time can cause nose, throat, lung, and eye irritation. It can also cause intoxication, headaches, fatigue, stupor, light-headedness, dizziness, confusion, increased pulse rate, nausea, vomiting, and shortening of the menstrual cycle in women. Breathing highly concentrated acetone vapors can irritate the respiratory tract and burn the eyes. Skin contact with acetone can irritate or damage skin.
- Dibutyl phthalate - Also known as DBP, is a plasticiser (added to materials to make more flexible and resilient) used in nail polish and fingernail elongators. Phthalates of all kinds can adversely affect the reproductive system.
- Toluene - Exposure to high levels of toluene may affect the kidneys, nervous system, liver, brain, and heart. Direct, prolonged contact with liquid toluene or vapor can irritate the eyes, and cause dry skin and skin rashes. Ingesting toluene can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and difficult breathing. Exposure to low to moderate levels of toluene can cause confusion, light-headedness, dizziness, headache, fatigue, weakness, memory loss, nausea, appetite loss, coughing, wheezing, and hearing and color vision loss.
- Volatile organic compounds - Long-term exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Short-term exposure to volatile organic compounds can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, fatigue, loss of coordination, allergic skin reactions, nausea, and memory impairment.
Making Nail Salons Safer
When it comes to minimizing the risks posed by the chemicals found in nail salons, there are two basic options: replacing dangerous chemicals with safer choices, or handling the dangerous chemicals in such a way that exposure and its effects are minimized.
Here are some points from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on protecting the health of nail salon workers:
- Use professional quality room air cleaning devices, such as an IQAir MultiGas air purifier.
- Replace charcoal and dust filters regularly.
- Use gloves. Latex gloves can themselves cause irritation and vinyl gloves are permeable to many nail product ingredients. The best choice for protection is nitrile gloves.
- Use masks to protect against the fine dust that is a byproduct of many nail salon services.
- Proper ventilation is, of course, vitally important to maintain the safety of nail salons. When possible, windows and doors should be open to allow for the circulation of fresh air. Tools like manicure tables that are fitted with their own ventilation devices also make a significant difference in minimizing the damage caused by toxic fumes.
In addition to precautions that nail salons can take, some cities are taking action as well. Last year, as reported in The New York Times article At Some Salons, Feeling Pretty and Green, San Francisco, CA passed the country's first Healthy Nail Salon Recognition ordinance.
While the ordinance doesn't specifically ban anything, it does publicly identify salons that use polishes, base coats, and top coats that are free of toluene, dibutyl phthalate, and formaldehyde, otherwise known as the "toxic trio." This toxic trio is on the California Safe Cosmetics Act "hit list" as being carcinogenic or a cause for birth defects.
Here again we see that as consumers become increasingly aware of chemical dangers and the source of exposure, they will continue to demand safer products and safer conditions. The awareness and spread of education may well take momentum as those who are particularly vulnerable to the respiratory effects of chemical exposure take the lead to make a difference.