Hair/Nail Salon Workers and Toxic Chemicals

At Work, At Risk

The hair and nail salon industry provides many opportunities - especially to those who arrive in the U.S. with limited capital, language and education - to move up the socio-economic ladder and to become self-employed. But little do they know, just by going to work every day, nail professionals put their lives in danger.

A mostly self-regulated cottage industry, nail salons are a toxic chemical breeding ground in pretty packaging. Decades of experience with hundreds of thousands of salon workers makes clear that if you work in a hair and nail salon, it’s likely you are exposed to a host of toxic substances on a daily basis. Chemicals in cosmetic products are under scrutiny and are the subject of recent national, state and local legislation.

Chemical Cocktail

Nail salon technicians handle solvents, glues, polishes and other nail care products daily. These tools of the trade contain chemicals known or suspected to cause: cancer, allergies endocrine disruption, neurological damage, dermatological problems, respiratory illnesses and reproductive harm.

The three most discussed ingredients in nail salon products are formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl-phthalate (DBP).

  1. Formaldehyde is used as an ingredient in nail hardeners. It is a specialized product used in nail salons to deal with specific nail problems. Formaldehyde can cause severe allergic reactions of the skin and eyes, rapid heart rate, build-up of fluid in the lungs, skin allergies and rashes, and asthma-like allergies with coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and a drop in body temperature. In women, exposure can cause menstrual disorders. People with asthma may be more sensitive to exposure to formaldehyde.
  2. Toluene is a solvent used in nail polish products to make products flow more smoothly. Toluene may cause irritation to eyes and nose, weakness, exhaustion, confusion, inappropriate feelings of happiness, dizziness, headache, dilated pupils, runny eyes, anxiety, muscle fatigue, inability to sleep, feeling of numbness/tingling, skin rash, and in more serious cases of overexposure can cause liver and kidney damage.
  3. DBP is a plasticizer used to make nail polish products more flexible. DBP may cause irritation to eyes, stomach, and upper respiratory system. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations may be hazardous to human reproduction and development.

In addition to these three ingredients, a fourth ingredient often mentioned is methyl methacrylate, or MMA, a liquid monomer that, when combined with a polymer powder, can be used to make acrylic nails. MMA enters your body when you breathe in the vapor or get the liquid on your skin. The most common effect of overexposure is irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, throat, or lungs. MMA can affect your nervous system (causing symptoms similar to drunkenness), but most people will not experience this without first experiencing irritation.

 Workers who breathe MMA for years can suffer kidney and liver lesions, reproductive problems and possibly lung and cardiovascular damage, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

In 1974, the FDA banned MMA for use in nail care products and most salons and manufacturers switched to the safer alternative, ethyl methacrylate (EMA) liquid monomer, a much more expensive substance that is safer than MMA.  However, Cosmetology Inspectors confirm that you can still find many nail salons are using MMA today.  And even though, EMA is less hazardous than MMA, it is still a hazard and allergic reactions may still occur.

Protect your health and the health of your family

On the job, nail salon professionals who come in contact with hazard chemicals in concentrated dosage 8-10 hours a day, six to seven days a week, their health is greatly at risk.

  • Are your eyes, nose, throat and skin often irritated?
  • Do you frequently experience shortness of breath, tiredness, headaches, nausea or coughing?
  • Are you worried that continued exposure to salon chemicals can lead to long-term health-risks?

Detoxify Your Body

The natural detoxifiers within our bodies process toxins in the liver and kidneys, excreting them in the form of sweat, urine and feces. But when the body becomes overwhelmed with toxic substances, dangerous toxins are not being expelled properly, they are reabsorbed into your blood.  These toxins can also be reabsorbed if your bowels are clogged or sluggish and cannot handle the blood toxicity overload.  Alba Natural Detox is an ideal solution to effectively yet gently remove toxins and purify your body for optimal health.

Alba Staff


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About Salon Workers.  In California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative.  Retrieved May 23, 2011, from

Laura J. Martin, MD (n.d).  Citing Websites. Chemicals May Be Risky to Nail Salon Workers.  In WebMD.  Retrieved May 21, 2011, from

Serena Espinosa, External Affairs Associate (May 5, 2011).  Nail Salon Workers Exposed to Unsafe Amounts of Toxic Chemicals.  In California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative.  Retrieved May 23, 2011, from

Kim Kenny (n.d.).  The Hidden Cost of a Manicure.  In Women Foundation of California.  Retrieved May 23, 2011, from

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