The Hidden Health Costs of a Manicure

Image courtesy of California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative

The entrepreneurial Vietnamese-American women who own and work at nail salons in communities across the state run thriving businesses at a high cost—their health. Nail salon workers are exposed to potentially toxic chemicals for hours at a time. The three most toxic of these chemicals, Dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene, are commonly found in nail polish and are associated with cancer, developmental disabilities, asthma and other chronic diseases.

“The federal law that governs the cosmetics industry is only two and a half pages long, and it hasn’t been updated in 70 years. Because of this and because the law is so weak, companies can use ingredients that are known to cause cancer or reproductive harm and it’s perfectly legal for them to do that,” says Jamie Silberberger of Women’s Voices for the Earth.

Image courtesy of California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative

However, the owners and workers of nail salons across California are taking matters into their own hands, and are organizing for safer nail salon products and stricter regulations.

Making Contact, (an award-winning public affairs radio program broadcasted internationally) recently profiled the efforts of Bay Area activists (including Women’s Foundation of California grant partner the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative) whose organizing has led to a green salon movement and more public awareness of this problem.

Their efforts are paying off. Just this past October, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to pass a city-wide ordinance that will publicly recognize nail salons that go green and use nail salon products that are toxic-trio free. It’s a small step, but one in the right direction.

The efforts of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative have been central to this work.

The Collaborative will be one of our honorees at our 2011 Momentum Awards in LA on May 20. For more information about the Momentum Awards, contact Development and Communications Officer Kim Kenny.

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