Workers Health & Safety Centre

New report highlights hazards of salon work

Nail salon worker
Hair and nail salons can expose workers to a daily barrage of chemicals capable of causing serious health effects says a new report.
Women's Voices for the Earth released their new report, Beauty and its Beast, to launch Salon Days of Action where U.S. salon workers also took their concerns to Washington’s Capitol Hill.
The report is the first to document how commonly used salon products—hair sprays, permanent waves, acrylic nail applications to name a few—can cause serious harm to the health of salon workers, most of whom are women.

Salon exposures—looking good, feeling bad

Salon workers are exposed to toxins by inhaling chemicals from salon air and absorbing others through their skin. Because many salon tasks also involve wet work, such as hair washing, workers’ skin becomes damaged, making it easier for chemicals to be absorbed.
Common airborne salon exposures include: toluene (nail polish, nail and wig glue, hair dye), acetone (nail polish remover, hairspray), ammonia (hair bleach) and methyl methacrylate (artificial nails).
Of greater concern is exposure to formaldehyde through nail hardeners and polish but it can also be released from hair straighteners and flat irons when used with high heat. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued alerts on formaldehyde in hair products having cited several salons for failing to protect workers from high airborne levels and after charging some manufacturers for mislabelling products as formaldehyde-free.
IARC also found for hair dyes and colorants that “occupational exposures as a hairdresser or barber are probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Health impacts for workers…and their children

Growing research evidence is uncovering a wide range of health conditions among salon workers including those studying for the trade.
Not surprisingly, two of the most common health problems are dermatitis and respiratory conditions. Surveys have found close to 60 per cent of salon workers suffer a skin condition some so severe it forces them to leave the trade. Salon workers often suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and reduced lung function. A study of some 20,000 workers in Northern Europe found hairdressers had one of the highest rates of new-onset asthma.
This new report expands our understanding of the range of health issues, both acute and chronic, experienced by salon workers. Salon workers are at increased risk for: cancer (breast, lung, larynx, bladder and multiple myeloma), depression, Alzheimer’s disease, presenile dementia, motor neuron disease, lupus and primary biliary cirrhosis, miscarriage and having babies with cleft palates and other birth defects.

Taking action—Laws for safer products

By law, cosmetic products sold in the U.S. must be free of poisonous and harmful substances, but the law falls short of ordering product testing prior to their sale. U.S. regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, also lacks the power to issue mandatory recalls of dangerous products. Add to this that ingredients on salon products do not have to be legally disclosed and workplace prevention efforts become all the more challenging.
For these reasons, Women’s Voices for the Earth is lobbying U.S. legislators to pass the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act. The bill would ensure personal care and salon products are free of harmful substances and require full ingredient closure on labels and company websites.
Canadian salon workers face similar risks. In Canada, cosmetic products are governed by the Cosmetic Regulations under the Food and Drugs Act and are among the products excluded from Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System laws. WHMIS ensures workers have access to training and hazard information contained on product labels and material safety data sheets.
Health Canada maintains a Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist, a list of substances prohibited or restricted in cosmetic and personal care products. Manufacturers have to notify Health Canada about product ingredients, but only after products enter the market. This may not prevent the sale of products containing hazardous ingredients. Canadian Environmental Law Association is among those petitioning for improved laws and enforcement.
Until we have more protective laws, salons can employ workplace prevention strategies including: using less toxic salon products; reducing or eliminating services that use toxic chemicals; ensuring adequate ventilation; using pumps instead of sprays to reduce airborne aerosols, and providing and using protective equipment to reduce exposures.
Downloads and resources:
WHSC offers a wide range of training programs and resources to help workplace parties understand their legal duties and responsibilities related to workplace hazards including toxic chemicals. Many of these same programs offer essential insight into the information and tools needed to eliminate or reduce harmful workplace and environmental exposures.
To learn more:
Call:    1-888-869-7950