Raphael: Pretty shouldn't stink 

The recent buzz in the news about nail salon workers’ health and safety underscores the need for better regulation of the chemicals that lurk in the personal care and cosmetic products we use every day — from nail polish to body lotion.

Most of us assume that if something is available in the marketplace, it’s been screened by the federal government for health and safety. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

That is why the San Francisco Department of the Environment launched our Healthy Nail Salon Program four years ago. Out of concern for nail salon employees, who spend their days breathing in stinky and potentially harmful chemicals to make our fingers and toes colorful, we investigated the chemicals in polishes, removers, artificial nail products and polish thinners. What we found wasn’t pretty.

Chemicals that are known carcinogens, asthmogens, and neuro- and reproductive toxicants are common ingredients in nail-care products. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to allow chemicals such as toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde in nail polishes, all three are listed on the State of California Proposition 65 toxic chemicals list, and DBP and formaldehyde have been banned from use in cosmetics in Europe.

The good news is there are alternatives to this toxic trio of chemicals. The Healthy Nail Salon Program conducts in-language education of salon owners and employees about alternative products and then recognizes those salons that eliminate polishes, removers and thinners that contain these chemicals as well as some others. Recognition also means that workers are protected.

They are asked to wear gloves when working with clients and handling any salon chemicals, and masks and protective eyewear while clipping, sanding and filing. Furthermore, we educate salon owners about the dangers posed by artificial nails, in that the chemicals involved and the lengthy process of creating artificial nails increases exposure, not to mention the toxic dust that is generated when they are sanded away. Those salons that continue to offer artificial nails are required to purchase and use ventilation units to be recognized as Healthy Nail Salons.

Currently, San Francisco has 25 Healthy Nail Salons, out of more than 200 salons citywide. There are clear health benefits for salon employees, but becoming a Healthy Nail Salon can also help the salon’s bottom line.

We urge San Franciscans to look for the Healthy Nail Salon sticker in the window and patronize those salons. If your favorite salon is not part of the program, ask them to join.

We think everyone can agree that pretty fingers and toes shouldn’t require stinky, harmful chemicals. Let’s reward those salons that are making a difference for their employees and their customers.

To find a recognized salon near you, visit www.sfenvironment.org/healthy-nail-salon-program.

Debbie Raphael is the director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

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