February 1, 2016

nail workerBy Catherine Porter, JD

On a daily basis, for long hours, women who work in nail and hair salons handle a multitude of chemicals that can harm their health.  Nail care professionals handle solvents, glues, polishes and other beauty care products containing chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer, allergies, respiratory, neurological and reproductive harm. Women working in nail salons are increasingly reporting acute health concerns such as headaches, dizziness, rashes and breathing difficulties in addition to more serious/chronic problems such as miscarriages, birth defects, cancers and respiratory illnesses.  Most nail salon technicians are of reproductive age and are often Vietnamese immigrants with limited English skills.

Hair care professionals also experience significant health issues, including irritation (skin, eye, nose), fatigue, nausea, pain (wrists, fingers, hands), and chemical burns. Skin toxicants, allergens, and endocrine system disrupting compounds are found in products used and recommended by stylists.  Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and sodium hydroxide (lye) which can cause eye damage, are found in hair straighteners marketed to women of color.

Currently, ingredients of cosmetics sold at retail stores must be listed on product labels—this is good for the people who sell, buy, and use those products. We as consumers can be informed of exactly what we’re using.

In stark contrast, chemical ingredients in professional cosmetics do not have to be listed on product labels.  This lack of transparency hampers beauty professionals’ ability to make informed choices about the products they use and how to protect their and their customers’ health.

This information blackout is also concerning for doctors whose ability to diagnose and treat beauty professionals is greatly hampered.

Advocates call for policy solutions to bring greater transparency to this product industry that include:

  1. Requiring that ingredients of all professional cosmetic products be listed on labels.
  2. Requiring reference on labels to websites where professional consumers such as nail and hair salon workers can find out more about the chemicals and their health effects.
  3. Ensuring greater access regardless of language.
  4. Increasing penalties for failure to comply with the law and provide attorneys’ fees for agencies pursuing actions.

Stay tuned for developments in the movement toward greater clarity in all cosmetics and better health for beauty professionals.