Is Your Nail Salon "Healthy?"

In the midst of our busy lives, we often have to remind ourselves that it’s ok to schedule in some “me time. And what better way to do that than by pampering ourselves with a mani/pedi  one of life’s little luxuries that’s quick, easy and convenient. But when it comes to picking a salon, it’s important not to run into just any locale with an open chair. Take the time to ensure that it’s a certified "Healthy Nail Salon." 

healthy nail salon

In 2005, Asian Health Services, a community clinic in Oakland, noticed an epidemic of health issues amongst female-dominated salon workers who were getting exposed (almost daily!) to various chemicals of concern. These issues ranged from allergies and respiratory distress, to neurological and reproductive challenges, to cancer. In response, the AHS created the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative – a statewide coalition representing the salon community, public health and workers’ rights organizations and environmental justice – to fight for a healthier, more sustainable and just nail and beauty industry.1 

Salons that participate in the Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative are required to make significant changes to their businesses. Owners must purchase less toxic products and install localized ventilation. Employees are obliged to wear appropriate gloves and masks, as well as be educated and trained on nail salon best practices. One area of concern for small business owners is that these adjustments can be quite costly, but the collaborative has proven that the reward is much higher.2 In addition, adopting healthy salon standards are viewed so positively by clients that they are willing to pay more for "cleaner" and safer services, thereby offsetting the amount owners have to spend on upgrades and changes.3 

Here are few interesting factoids to put some things into perspective. With more than 17,000 salons nationwide, the nail industry is considered to be a highly profitable enterprise, bringing in approximately $8.5 billion in revenue per year. California has the highest number of salons, with more than 80 percent of manicurists being Vietnamese American, and more than 50 percent of them being of child-bearing age. The "toxic trio," toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate, can be commonly found in nail polish solvents, glues and hardeners. For a complete list of all 20 harmful chemicals to lookout for, as listed by the Environment Protection Agency, see here.2 

The root of the issue is that manufacturers are still making products with these harmful chemicals. So it’s up to us to avoid toxic salons and brands, and support those participating in the coalition. While replacing old colors with new ones can be costly swap, it’s definitely worth while when considering the benefits of cleaner, safer beauty. For a list of  5, 7, and 9-free nail polishes we love,see here. 

Although the nail salon industry is on the right path to improving the health of nail salon workers and consumers, especially in progressive cities like San Francisco, Santa Monica and New York, we still have quite ways to go. But we took a huge leap on October 2016, when Asian Health Services and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative signed the Healthy Nail Salon Bill AB2125, which transforms the nail industry in California. This bill makes it mandatory to regulate the existence and disclosure of specified chemicals in retail products, and provides for the licensing and regulation of nail salons and manicurists.4 

So, next time you get your nails done, make sure to choose a Healthy Nail Salon. With less toxic products, safer practices and better ventilation, they create pampering experiences that are healthier for us, the salon staff, and our planet. And even bigger picture, this is a major push for environmental health, reproductive justice and rights for women, immigrants and workers. Now, that’s what we call beautiful! #beautyofchange 

San Francisco currently recognizes a growing number of Healthy Nails Salons located throughout the city, so if you live in the Bay Area, find one near you here.