European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

Accueil > Topics > Health & Safety - working conditions > News list > Nail salon workers at risk of severe ailments – the State...

News list

9 September 2016

Nail salon workers at risk of severe ailments – the State of New York adopts measures to tackle the problem

In late July, the New York State Department of Health issued a report on workers' exposure to hazardous chemicals in nail salons. The report's authors reviewed the scientific literature and consulted experts from health and environmental agencies across the United States. They found that people working in the nail care industry are potentially exposed to about 100 chemicals that are present in manicure products, including some carcinogens (benzene, formaldehyde) and reprotoxics (toluene).

‘Our review of product Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) showed that a single nail polish, for example, can contain dozens of chemical constituents’, wrote the authors.

When examining the labelling of nail products, they also found discrepancies between the chemicals listed and the chemicals actually present in the product. For instance, toluene was found in 10 out of 12 products with labels stipulating that they were ’toluene-free’.

The experts from the New York State Department of Health also got access to studies aimed at identifying chemical concentrations in the air. ‘Air sampling in nail salons clearly indicates that levels of some volatile organic chemicals related to nail products can be elevated compared to indoor environments where nail products are not being used’, they wrote.

They consider that long-term exposure to the products used in nail salons could result in a variety of ailments, ranging from headaches, irritations of the skin, eyes and respiratory system to chronic diseases as severe as cancer and other illnesses affecting various organs or systems, including the reproductive system.

The authors recommend the installation of source capture exhaust ventilation systems and providing manicurists with appropriate personal protective equipment. To tackle the issue at source, they also suggest that policymakers consider measures for eliminating the most worrying chemicals –toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate – in the products used in the nail care industry.

Following the release of the report, the governor of the State of New York announced the entry into effect in October of new regulations imposing ventilation requirements in nail salons across the state. ’Nail salon workers have been grossly exploited and exposed to dangerous chemicals with little or no protection’, stated governor Andrew Cuomo in a press release.

Poor health and working conditions, low remuneration, and very long working days are widespread in the nail care sector, as the New York Times revealed in an inquiry published in May 2015. The journalist Sarah Maslin Nir recorded over 100 interviews with manicurists during her one-year-long inquiry. The overwhelming majority were migrant workers from Asia who did not speak English fluently. In her article, the reporter told the stories of a woman who had to face multiple miscarriages and of another whose child was born with mental and physical disabilities. She also interviewed a manicurist who was diagnosed with breast cancer, after having worked for 10 years in nail salons.

For further information:

All news