Nail polish is pretty, but it’s full of chemicals. Formaldehyde, artificial nails and human nail filings are the biggest causes and triggers of occupational asthma in nail salons. Some of the risk-reduction advice is already at play in various salons around the city. Many of them use spring-loaded bottles for polish remover, which reduce the amount of vapours that escape into the air. But other suggestions seem like a long shot: Tilted, ventilated tables, for example, are very expensive.
Both polish and remover contain acetone, which can cause everything from headaches and dizziness to nervous system and reproductive problems. Polishes are infamous for containing the “Big Three” hazardous chemicals: toluene, which can damage nervous and reproductive systems; formaldehyde, which can causes rashes and asthma; and dibutyl phthalate, which has been shown to affect sexual organ development in male fetuses.
Artificial nails often contain methacrylate, a chemical that is banned in some countries like Canada, but still found in many salons around the world because it’s cheaper than its alternatives. It can cause the technician numbness and pain.
It’s now trendy for polish brands – including the popular Essie and OPI – to eliminate the “Big Three” chemicals. But for every trend discarded, a new one emerges: Long-lasting shellac and gel coverings are becoming all the rage (online buzz notes that shellac nails require loads of acetone to remove, while gel nails need extra time under UV lights to dry properly).
But the people most at risk of health threats are nail technicians and hair stylists. They can develop occupational asthma, or worsen asthma they already have.