NIOSH Evaluates Chemical Exposures, Ergonomics at Four Nail Salons

Published August 1, 2019

A NIOSH investigation of four nail salons identified several engineering and administrative controls—as well as personal protective equipment—to help reduce employee contact with chemicals and improve ergonomics and ventilation at the salons. Technicians provided a range of nail services, including applying, removing, filling, and polishing acrylic nails and providing standard polish, gel, and shellac polish manicures and pedicures. NIOSH’s evaluation of the salons was focused mainly on assessing chemical and particulate exposures and work-related health concerns of the nail technicians. The agency’s visits were initiated through a request from a state health department that described concerns about chemical exposures and musculoskeletal disorders among nail salon employees.

NIOSH found that work practices and conditions at the salons contributed to chemical exposures from nail polish remover, nail polish, acrylic polymers, and powders. According to the agency, some chemicals in nail salon products can cause health problems such as skin rash or dermatitis; eye, nose, and throat irritation; asthma; neurological effects; reproductive problems; and cancer. NIOSH investigators also observed employees working in positions that pose risks for developing musculoskeletal disorders. For example, technicians repeatedly bent their necks and shoulders in ways that might cause injury or pain, and seated employees repeatedly lifted and held clients’ feet to shoulder level during pedicures—a practice that can put stress on the upper back and shoulders. In addition, none of the four salons’ ventilation systems met ventilation guidelines. One salon did not have mechanical ventilation, and two salons each had one roof fan that exhausted indoor air from vents in the ceiling. The fourth salon appeared to have a general ventilation system and a small direct exhaust system, but neither system was operating at the time of NIOSH’s visit. According to the agency’s report, none of the salons had local exhaust ventilation at acrylic nail or manicure stations.

“None of the employees reported respiratory or skin symptoms; however, work practices and workplace conditions likely contributed to chemical exposures through the skin and lungs,” NIOSH’s report concludes. “Improving workplace equipment, ventilation, and chemical storage practices; providing training on ergonomic postures, chemical hazards, and health risks; and enhancing work practices and PPE use will help promote workplace health and safety of employees in the nail salons.”

NIOSH urged the employers to train employees on the hazards of chemicals in the salon and to instruct technicians to wear gloves to prevent skin exposure to chemicals. The agency also recommended using a separate, well ventilated area to store chemicals away from workers. Other recommendations described in the report include providing adjustable manicure and pedicure chairs to nail technicians so that they can change their workstations to be more comfortable; training employees on good ergonomic postures when they are hired and at least every year afterward; and using LEV to reduce acrylic dust and chemical exposures in air.

The full health hazard evaluation report (PDF) is available from the NIOSH website. The agency also has a web page that provides resources related to nail technicians' health and workplace exposure control.

Related: At AIHce 2016, Sarah Maslin Nir of The New York Times recounted her 13-month investigation into the exploitation and health hazards faced by workers in New York City’s nail salon industry during the 16th Annual Upton Sinclair Lecture for Outstanding EHS Investigative Reporting.