California Encourages Nail Salons to Get Rid of Toxic Products

California Encourages Nail Salons to Get Rid of Toxic Products

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Photo courtesy of California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative

SAN FRANCISCO -- A program to protect the health of California’s nail salon workers and their clients was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown last week.

The Nail Salon Recognition Program would allow salons that use less toxic products and practices to be designated healthy nail salons to consumers. The law goes into effect in January 2017.

AB 2125 “uses the carrot and encourages businesses to voluntarily become healthier nail salons, which will help both their workers and their patrons,” said Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), who authored the bill.

Just four of the state’s 58 counties have been voluntarily participating in a healthy nail salon program: San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara. The city of Santa Monica also participates in the program.

Participating salons, currently estimated at 100 statewide, get a certificate or sticker to put in their window, and their names get added to the county website “to distinguish them from the salon next door,” said Catherine Porter, policy director of California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative (HNSC). The collaborative has been at the forefront of efforts to get nail salons to move away from products that are harmful to workers and their customers.

There are more than 312,000 cosmetologists licensed to provide hair and nail services in California, of whom 129,000 are manicurists. Most of the nail salon workers in California are women from the Vietnamese community, working in some 50,000 salons. Nail salons are part of an $8 billion industry.

Health care advocates say it is an under-regulated business, jeopardizing the health of its workers, many of whom don’t speak English.

For long hours each day, they handle solvents, glues and polishes. These products contain chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer, allergies, and respiratory, neurological and reproductive harm, according to a media advisory from HNSC.

Three chemicals in nail products are especially considered harmful to health – Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde and toluene. They are labeled as the “toxic trio” among worker advocates.

DPH was recently banned in Australia after it was determined to contain harmful toxins. In 2011, the National Toxicology Program, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, labeled formaldehyde a human carcinogen. Toluene, a type of solvent that helps polish glide on smoothly, could impair cognitive and kidney function, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Unlike retail cosmetics, there are no requirements for all ingredients to be listed on the labels of salon products, making it difficult for workers to avoid harmful exposure. Many salon workers are women of color, some of whom have limited English skills that can lead to barriers to awareness of chemical exposure.

Chiu’s bill would require product manufacturers to provide distributors with so-called ingredient information safety data sheets, which will be made available to salons. The “toxic trio,” as well as a few other chemicals deemed harmful should not be in any of the products, Porter said.

One other important provision in Chiu’s bill is to educate consumers about what’s contained in products used by nail salons.

Bebe Nail Care in Albany, Calif., switched to healthy nail products back in December 2014 simply because “we care about our workers,” said salon manager Tranh Truong.

Although Truong decided not to raise prices on his customers after the switch, some other salons that moved away from toxic products did, but only by a little, Porter said, some of them passing the additional costs on to their clients.

“I would like to pay a little more for a pedicure to make sure safer products are used,” Porter said.