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New York Nail Salon Workers Exposed to Toxic Chemicals

A New York Times investigation that exposed the exploitation of workers has brought to light many issues within the industry. In addition to dismal pay wages and excruciatingly long workdays, manicurists are exposed to a range of toxic substances every day.


Salon workers are exposed to chemicals in large quantities, day after day, often in inadequately ventilated workplaces. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) covers the health hazards that are present in nail salons in print and on their website, yet the rules and regulations are not always followed. This disregard by salon owners puts their workers at risk for an array of illnesses due to toxic exposure.

Some of the most harmful chemicals used in nail salons are:

  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) (nail polish): nausea and irritated eyes, skin, nose, mouth, and throat. Long-term exposures to high concentrations may cause other serious effects.
  • Formaldehyde (nail polish, nail hardener): difficulty breathing, including coughing, asthma-like attacks, and wheezing; allergic reactions; irritated eyes, skin, and throat. Formaldehyde can cause cancer.
  • Toluene (nail polish, fingernail glue): dry or cracked skin; headaches, dizziness, and numbness; irritated eyes, nose, throat, and lungs; damage to liver and kidneys; and harm to unborn children during pregnancy.

While a monthly visit to a nail salon might not affect the customer, the nail salon worker must endure exposure to these, and more, chemicals all day, every day. Over time, exposure can lead to serious problems including abnormal fetal development and cancer.

The New York Times investigated salon workers in and around New York City, where there is the highest concentration of nail salons in the United States. States like California have worked to restrict certain chemicals from nail salon products and have succeeded, only for testing to show that those dangerous substances are still present within many products.

Will you still get your nails done knowing the conditions that workers face?

Sources: The New York Times | Occupational Health and Safety Administration

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