Local nail salons go green
Local nail salons go green
Lan-Anh Truong's nail salon, Leann's Nails, was the first in Alameda County to gain a green salon certification. Photo by Michele Ellson.
Lan-Anh Truong has been in the nail trade for more than 20 years, both to pay the bills and because doing people’s nails is her art. But the chemicals in the products the Webster Street salon owner was using made her eyes red, and she frequently had difficulty breathing.
Truong said she was excited to learn that Alameda County had started a program to help salon owners make their workplaces safer for workers and customers alike, and on Wednesday she and her salon, Leann’s Nails, were recognized as the first in the county to earn a “Healthy Nail Salon” designation.
“I hope I can continue my art knowing I will be healthier and safer,” Truong said through an interpreter.
Nail salons are a $7 billion a year business in the United States, and more than 120,000 Californians are licensed manicurists. Here in Alameda County, 1,000 manicurists work in more than 350 nail salons – often for as long as 10 hours a day.
But the polishes and other products they use – often in poorly ventilated spaces – contain toxic chemicals that are considered harmful to women, and pregnant women in particular, health advocates who have banded together to make nail salons safer said Wednesday.
More than half of the women who work in the salons are of childbearing age, according to a brochure from the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, and many lack the English proficiency to access information about potentially hazardous ingredients in the beauty products they are using; a study found that as many as 80 percent of nail salon workers are of Vietnamese descent.
Of particular concern, they said, are a “toxic trio” of chemicals contained in nail polishes – dibutyl phthalate, which reduces brittleness and cracking and is believed to cause reproductive and developmental harm; tolulene, a solvent that can cause headaches, dizziness and nausea, according to the Environmental Protection Agency; and formaldehyde, a disinfectant and preservative that the EPA has listed as a probable carcinogen.
Federal and state regulation of the health impacts of beauty products is scant, Catherine Porter of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative said; she said beauty products don’t go through pre-market testing and are presumed safe.
In 2005 state lawmakers passed the Safe Cosmetics Act, which requires makers of beauty products to give the state information on hazardous ingredients; a website that will offer that information to the public is due to go live by the end of the year, Porter said. The information is now available on the California Department of Public Health’s Safe Cosmetics Program website; it lists all of the chemicals that make up the “toxic trio” as ones known to cause cancer or reproductive problems.
In the absence of regulations barring toxic chemicals in beauty products, the collaborative is working with cities and counties to establish programs rewarding salon owners who use nontoxic products and take steps to protect workers like installing better ventilation and providing special masks that filter out dust from artificial nails. The programs’ goals are to improve safety for salon workers and their customers and to raise awareness about the beauty products’ potential safety issues.
Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors approved a healthy nail salon program pilot earlier this year, along with $25,000 to fund it; San Francisco and Santa Monica have similar programs. Supervisor Wilma Chan said the county is putting together a business plan to try to determine the costs of expanding the program.
Truong’s salon was one of seven in the county to receive the “Healthy Nail Salon” designation. Another Alameda salon, Vicky’s Hair & Nail Salon on Central Avenue, has also received the designation, marked with a placard in the shops.
To receive the designation, salon owners and workers must attend training; use nontoxic polishes and safer nail polish removers, and avoid nail polish thinners; properly ventilate areas where artificial nails are provided; and properly label, store and dispose of nail products.
The collaborative also recommends that salon workers wear nitrile gloves and long-sleeved shirts and that they close product containers when not in use and dispose of trash in sealed bags or trash cans.
Truong and Vicky’s owner Xuan “Tony” Huynh stock polishes without “toxic trio” ingredients like OPI, Zoya and CM, and each has purchased a blower to chase away dust from artificial nails. Huynh has also installed fans in each of his workers’ stations, along with lidded trash cans in which sealed plastic bags of used cotton balls are placed.
“They’re better for my workers,” Huynh said of the fans.
Truong offers cuticle cleaning using water and lemon, which contains natural acids.
Truong said she used to open the windows of her salon in order to have fresh air, because she didn’t know how to be safer in her salon. But the program has taught her ways to protect her health.
She now uses nontoxic nail polishes, and she has installed an air filter that eliminated what for many is the telltale smell of the products used in nail salons – products that have added some cost for Truong, but have provided her additional peace of mind.
“I have the knowledge and the training to do better,” she said.
Leann’s Nails is at 1612 Webster Street, and Vicky’s Hair & Nail Salon is at 901 Central Avenue. Additional information about beauty product safety is available on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database.