Safe Breathing Beauty – Finding Safe Nail and Hair Salons

As many of us focus on the healthy foods we eat, many consumers are looking to make sure their beauty products are just as healthy as their diet.

The process of “getting beautiful” can sometimes expose a harmful and ugly side as initiatives like the Boston Safe Nail Salons Project presented a study which aims to protect employees and the general public from the harmful exposure of chemicals at area beauty salons.

Can you imagine the amount of potentially hazardous compounds that nail salon workers are exposed on a daily basis? Acetone (nail polish remover), acetonitrile (fingernail glue remover), formaldehyde (nail polish, nail hardener), and toluene (nail polish, fingernail glue) are just four of the many toxic elements that can, with prolonged exposure, cause irritated eyes, skin, nose, mouth, and throat, asthma, and harm to unborn children during pregnancy. The Safe Nail Salons Project focuses on providing indoor air quality to decrease the amount of exposure to toxic elements and then works to give practical suggestions to business owners to prevent occupational exposure.

So how are workers and consumers exposed to these toxic elements found in beauty products and salons?

Conducted in partnership with researchers at Brandeis University, the Boston Public Health Commission, and Viet Aid, 21 nail salons were studied and found the following ways employees were exposed to harmful elements:


According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), filling artificial nails results in a dust that floats in the air that contains glue, benzoyl peroxide, silica, and methacrylate polymers. When inhaled, these hazardous particles can produce neurological symptoms like headaches, lethargy, and lightheadedness in addition to respiratory complications like coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness.

Solution: Wear a facemask when performing artificial nail filling.


The United States Department of Labor finds exposure to the chemicals and vapors found in nail salons “can “add up,” or compound, especially when many products are being used at the same time, the products are used day after day, or when there is poor ventilation in the salon. When this happens, workers can get sick.” The proper handling of products is key in the prevention of exposure to vapors in a beauty salon.

Solution: The EPA urges establishments to replace and tighten caps to all supplies after use and make sure all items soaked in chemicals are disposed of properly.

Improper Ventilation

Some establishments do not have exhaust systems, consistently change filters, or conduct regular maintenance on Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. The absence of circulating fresh air free of contaminates and toxins is crucial in keeping a properly ventilated salon.

Solution: If possible, open the door to allow fresh air and the ventilation of toxic air out of the building. Researchers concluded that the opening of doors and windows can provide a simple solution to avoiding vapor and exposure to dust.

Similar concerns ring true for hair salons, so how can consumers find an establishment that takes indoor air quality, environmental, and human responsibility seriously?

Large beauty companies like Aveda are committed to using naturally derived ingredients like plant and pure flower essences as opposed to chemicals. With spas and retail locations all over the world, it’s easy to find a business like Aveda somewhere near you. But what about a local and responsible nail or hair salon?

Reaching out to your local Chamber of Commerce or Air Pollution Prevention office to inquire about which businesses are working towards cleaner air is one way to find a salon owner who takes indoor air quality seriously. Finding a safe salon is just as important as pinpointing a product that is non-toxic, so don’t take a chance with your health by unnecessarily exposing yourself to hazardous elements.