The next time you go to a salon to get your hair colored or treat yourself to a mani-pedi consider the salon workers and the toxic chemicals they are exposed to every day. For years there have been anecdotal reports of salon workers experiencing severe headaches, nosebleeds, eye problems, dizziness, dermatitis and other skin conditions, respiratory problems, and other serious health reactions as a result of the harsh chemicals used in the salon services industry. And, as we have previously reported, we are starting to see scientific inquiries into the adverse effects of the chemicals used in these environments and the effects those chemicals have on health and well-being of the people who work there. Now, however, there is a growing awareness among the salon workers themselves…
Salon workers across the cosmetology industry, including spa, hair, and nail salon employees, have begun to express workplace safety concerns. Many are starting to wear masks*, surgical gloves, and face shields to help minimize exposure to toxic chemicals and some have refused to work with certain chemicals altogether. And that’s not all. Salon workers are starting to speak up to regulatory agencies and file complaints about exposure to toxins**. “According to complaints filed by cosmetology workers to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) between January 2015 and July 2020 — obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests in partnership with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project — exposure to these chemicals, especially in salons with poor ventilation or whose owners failed to provide PPE, resulted in burning eyes, breathing problems, rashes, and more.” (source)
Where is the regulatory protection?
Due to antiquated regulatory laws and heavy lobbying efforts by Big Chemical and the powerful cosmetics and personal care products industries, Congress has not passed new legislation to regulate the cosmetics industry since the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Fortunately, some individual states have taken the lead on chemical consumer policy changes. For instance, California recently banned the manufacturing and sale of cosmetic, beauty, and personal care products containing any of 24 chemicals believed by the state to be toxic and harmful to consumers including formaldehyde, quaternium-15, mercury and certain types of PFAS. Other states, including Minnesota, Michigan, and Massachusetts, have enacted or introduced their own cosmetic chemical regulations, from banning toxic chemicals in children’s personal care products to requiring disclosures of ingredients in cosmetics. (source)
What is needed
What is needed are U.S. Department of Labor worker protection regulations that specifically address the toxic chemicals used in the salon industry. In the meantime, salon workers should continue to report adverse reactions to toxic salon chemicals to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and unite with fellow workers to pressure state regulators to create laws to protect their health and well-being.
*According to a 2019 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluation of four nail salons, surgical masks are not considered respiratory protection and do not protect against gas, vapor exposures, or particulates in the air. While N95 masks do not protect against gases or vapors from salon chemicals, according to the CDC they do protect against dust created while doing clients’ nails.
**A common chemical in some hair care treatments is formaldehyde which is especially problematic. The National Toxicology Program has classified formaldehyde as a ‘known carcinogen’. Even short-term exposure to formaldehyde “is associated with eye, nose, and throat irritation, shortness of breath and wheezing,” according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the National Cancer Institute.