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Nail Salon Chemicals: How Harmful Are They?

There has been some recent buzz about the health risks of nail salon workers.  Two studies suggest that constant exposure to nail product fumes might impact cognition in both nail salon workers and their unborn babies.  Although the workers’ exposure is estimated at 1200 times that of the average American, it does make one wonder if any woman who frequents these places may be at some risk.

The first study involved neuropsychological testing of 33 female salon workers and comparing their results to 35 women matched controls.  The researchers found that the salon workers did worse on tests of attention span and mental processing speed and their sense of smell was decreased.  This study was too small and non-specific to tease out which chemicals might be the culprits, but the observations were concerning.

The second study involved cognitive testing of children born to 32 mothers who were exposed to organic solvents when they were in utero.  Compared to a control group, the children (whose moms had been exposed to chemicals) performed more poorly on IQ tests and various other cognitive tests.  Interestingly, the participants in this study were not nail salon workers – they held jobs ranging from funeral home embalming technicians to hair stylists, to dry cleaners.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued some guidelines for nail salons, and based on my experience I’d be surprised if salons adhere to even 1/3 of these guidelines on average.  If you scroll to page 12 of the brochure, you’ll see that the EPA recommends wearing a “organic vapor cartridge respirator” which looks like something out of a HAZMAT video.  I doubt that any nail salons provide these for their staff… and if they did, what would clients make of it?

And so I think these small studies raise an interesting question: how safe is it to be exposed to organic solvents at all?  We need to do more research to tease out the exact risks of each individual chemical, and at which concentrations.  As for me, I’d urge pregnant women to minimize their exposure wherever possible, and strongly consider avoiding salons that offer acrylic nail services.  Until we know exactly how harmful these chemicals are – the best thing to do is to avoid them wherever possible.  The potential for solvent-related cognitive decline is worrisome enough – but allergies and asthma exacerbations are far more common.  For a full list of chemicals known to be harmful (and their side effects) please review the EPA brochure, pages 4-5.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.


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5 Responses to “Nail Salon Chemicals: How Harmful Are They?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Should pregnant women avoid nail salons?

  2. ValJonesMD says:

    To err on the side of caution, I would suggest: yes.  It is known that organic solvents can harm unborn babies, it is not known exactly how much of the solvent it takes to do so… so to be on the safe side, I’d avoid nail polish and nail salons while pregnant.  But one should always consult with an Ob/Gyn to get their take on it.  

  3. CleanWater22 says:

    Thank you so much for posting this helpful information and also thank you for being a responsible blogger by quoting your sources in such a clean format. Although I was advised against looking at blogs and random websites for information, your blog directed me to scholarly journals that will help in my studies. As a result of coming here to learn about the hazards of nail salons, my research increased dramatically. Thank you again. If there are any other scholarly journals that you know of that relate to chemical exposure through hair and nail salons let me know.

  4. CleanWater22 says:

    Thank you so much for posting this helpful information and also thank you for being a responsible blogger by quoting your sources in such a clean format. Although I was advised against looking at blogs and random websites for information, your blog directed me to scholarly journals that will help in my studies. As a result of coming here to learn about the hazards of nail salons, my research increased dramatically. Thank you again. If there are any other scholarly journals that you know of that relate to chemical exposure through hair and nail salons let me know.

  5. ValJonesMD says:

    Glad to be of help, CleanWater22. I’d encourage you to use PubMed as a search tool to get to more scientific studies on this subject. Happy hunting.

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