Glossed Over: How Safe Are Nail Salons?

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Whether it's for spring formal or for fun, we pamper ourselves by getting our nails done. After all, there's nothing like sitting back and relaxing in that massage chair, and being doted on, right?

Think again. In light of a recent study of Boston nail salons that observed the air quality of the workplace as well as the harms caused by a negative quality of air, Liza Ansher, a student from Brandeis University and researcher of the study (along with eleven other students), is urging us to take note of the dangerous chemicals and fumes released into the air each day. Regardless of whether you're getting a mani/pedi once a week or once every three months, you're putting yourself at risk, because your body retains and builds up these chemicals with each visit.

If we've got it bad, consider the nail technicians, who work under these conditions every day. The short-term effects of inhalation include nauseau, headache, dizziness and irritability, while long-term effects can mean asthma, diabetes, spontaneous abortion or other reproductory issues. While many salons have voluntarily eliminated the use nail polish containing what is known as the "toxic trio" — phthalates, toluene and formaldehyde — there is no widespread regulation among salons. Because of this, the Boston Public Health Commission has created the Safe Nail Salons Project, which has come up with a set of regulations to protect employees and salon patrons from infections and diseases. 

Regulations include keeping chemicals out of the air by storing them in closed and labeled containers; requiring lidded trash bins at every station; using a ventilation system that dispels chemical-ridden air and brings fresh air into the salon; ensuring that all multi-use tools (such as nail clippers) are disinfected properly between customers; ensuring that single-use items (such as pumice stones or toe separators) are never reused; and ensuring that foot spas are disinfected between each use.

While the Boston Public Health Commission works to spread safety in local beauty salons, the movement still has far to go. For your own safety, the Safe Nail Salons Project recommends:

  • Not shaving or waxing your legs within 24 hours of getting a pedicure.
  • Asking for clean single-use tools (pumice stones, toe separators, flip flops, etc.) and ensuring that all multi-use tools have been disinfected.
  • Avoiding nail polish that includes the toxic trio.
  • Finding out what is in your favorite brands of nail polish with the SkinDeep cosmetics database.
  • Reporting concerns about Boston nail salons to the Boston Public Health Commission at 617-534-5965.
  • Helping to protect the Vietnamese community members who run these salons in the Boston area (statistics show 37 percent of employees are Vietnamese). You can recommend that a salon participate in free Safe Nail Salon trainings (offered only in Boston).

So next time you go out to get pampered at the end of a long week, spread the word to help keep our salons safe!


About The Author

Alice is the Senior Associate Editor at Her Campus. She graduated from Emory University in 2012 as an English major and a Dance minor. Before joining Her Campus, she was an associate editor at Lucky Magazine. She is currently located in Salt Lake City, UT, where she spends her free time rescuing orphaned kittens, whose lives are documented on Instagram at @thekittensquad! You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @alicefchen.