A Study of Boston Nail Salons

Posted on March 30, 2012



A Study of Boston Nail Salons

By Meda Kisivuli

Brandeis University

B.A. Environmental Studies & Health: Science, Society and Policy


A recent study on the Indoor Air Quality of Boston Nail Salons conducted by Brandeis University students from the Environmental Health and Justice Program revealed that a high percentage of toxic chemicals and fine particles are found in nail salon air. The Students, who worked with the Boston Public Health Commission’s Safe Nail Salon Project, set out to measure the amount of toxins (volatile organic compounds, “VOCs”) and particulate matter which are fine particles from nail filings and dust. The amount of carbon dioxide was measured in order to understand the rate of ventilation in the nail salons. The students found out that most of the nail salons were poorly ventilated and had high levels of toxic chemicals and particulate matter that the workers were exposed to for long hours on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, most beauty products are rarely tested for safety, as the cosmetic industry is inadequately regulated.  Nail salon workers are exposed to chemical ingredients found in nail polishes, acrylic nails and nail polish removers such as acetone, formaldehyde and toluene. Reported health effects include headaches, dizziness, asthma and even spontaneous abortions. Most of these workers are immigrant Vietnamese women of reproductive age, making their exposure to harmful chemicals of concern. Currently, there are Congressional hearings for cosmetic safety hearings occurring within the House Energy and Health Commerce Subcommittee that could reinforce the status quo.

The details of the report can be found on the Boston Public Health Commission’s Safe Nail Salon website.   Students are in the process of delivering the results to the participating salons and recommend that the nail salons open doors and windows when the weather permits and if possible, invest in better ventilation equipment to reduce exposure to the chemicals. They also felt it was critical to encourage policy makers to discourage the production and use of toxic chemicals in nail salon products, and encourage manufactures to produce healthier alternatives. Please take a moment to send a letter to the House Energy and Health Commerce Committee today to protect the health of nail salon workers and all users of personal care products.  

A full report is expected in the Spring, 2012. In the meantime, Brandeis students will continue to work with Viet-AID and the Boston Public Health Commission’s Safe Nail Salon Project in partnering with salons to improve air quality, working conditions, and public safety throughout the city.

For more information about the Boston Public Health Commission’s Safe Nail Salon Project, and to download free educational materials and videos, visit www.bphc.org/safenails or call 617-534-5965.

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