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Hair & Nail Salons Are Hazardous Environments

A recent report from the National Safety Council identifies Hair and Nail Salons as extremely hazardous environments, specifically referring to air quality (as published in Safety and Health Magazine.)

Article Summary

The Report identified Headaches, Dizziness, Irritated eyes, skin and throat, Asthma, Miscarriages, Liver and kidney damage, and Cancer as some of the issues.

A New York Times investigation reported that nail-salon workers can be exposed to harmful chemicals and suffer a wide range of ailments. The article chronicled tales of lung disease, breast cancer and even vanishing fingerprints.

Key points

  • Research about cosmetologists and health issues has been limited.
  • Formaldehyde – which is sometimes listed on salon product labels under alternative names – is a major concern.
  • Experts and advocates say safer products, protective equipment, ventilation and training can help protect salon workers.

Hair and nail salons are full of many chemicals that can cause serious short and long term problems for both the staff and customers.



Some of the dangers in nails salons are the hazardous chemicals used in applying and removing the polish see the Toxic Trio below.

Scientific American magazine adds Ethyl methacrylate (EMA), the main substance in artificial fingernails, to the Toxic Trio.  The substance can be problematic for both nail technicians and customers, causing allergies, asthma and dermatitis.

Chemicals inside of glues, removers, polishes and other salon products can be hazardous individually, but when combined they cause even greater harm.

Below is a more complete matrix of the hazardous chemicals and risks include:


Of note is that the risks are not only from chemicals. Hair is another issue, as tiny hair clippings can float into the air. Each time nails are filed small dust particles from the nails are also emitted into the air.  These invisible particulates are easily breathed by the staff and customers. Since they are small they can go deep into the lungs potentially causing sickness and side effects.

A cautionary example

A hairdresser was horrified when her nose collapsed after decades of breathing in tiny, dust-sized hair clippings. The hairdresser says the tiny fragments of hair lodged themselves in the skin inside her nose. This caused an infection that eventually caused a hole to open through her septum. After 35 years of being exposed to the professional hazard the mother-of-three had to undergo an operation to rebuild her nose using cartilage taken from her right ear. (Hairdressing caused nose collapse)

The hairdresser, who has taken to wearing a mask in her salon, has issued a warning to others in the hair industry to protect themselves at work. She said: ‘I work for myself now so I can wear a mask. People get used to it once you explain the reason why. So now my customers come in and they are quite happy to accept that I wear a mask while cutting hair. I feel this should be highlighted – it’s a danger we are putting ourselves in. But it’s like the risks of smoking, everyone thinks it won’t happen to them.


Protection – What Are Your choices?

One solution – Air Masks (Personal Air Filters)

Filtering and fit are the key to an effective pollution mask, says Benjamin Barrett, a lecturer in Air Quality Science at King’s College, London.
“Generally speaking, there are two reasons why mask can or can’t work. One is the size of the particles they are able to filter out and the other is the fit on the face. If it’s leaking in from the side it’s not going to work,” Barrett told CNN recently

In addition to Barrett’s comments we recommend air masks with all, or at least most of the following features:

  • High level of protection – look for filter that can exclude up to 99% of .3 micron particulates.
  • Optional activated carbon designs that specifically absorb formaldehyde and other chemicals.
  • Adjustable – you need a safe tight seal.
  • Attractive styles – You are in the beauty business!
  • Comfortable – review valves and materials to keep heat build low and improve breathing.
  • Affordable – the best are those with removable filters as you do not throw the whole thing away.

StyleSEAL have developed a range of masks to resolve the issues mentioned above – see the features or view the range.

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