Nail Salons Get Free Ads, If They Ditch Toxic Polish

As SoCal's inaugural "healthy nail salon" initiative, the move is meant to protect workers and customers

Nail salons in Santa Monica have extra incentive to use safer lacquer now that the city is offering free advertising for polish purveyors who ditch toxic ingredients.

The initiative, announced Tuesday, is the first of its kind in Southern California and rewards salons that improve ventilation, require their workers use heavy-duty gloves, and get rid of polishes that contain three chemicals considered to be especially dangerous additives.

Some 120 nail technicians working at 30 licensed nail salons in Santa Monica daily are exposed to toxic cocktails, according to the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, which partnered with the City of Santa Monica Office of Sustainability and the Environment to enforce the initiative program.

Certification of a salon can up to two weeks, and exposure to chemicals less dangerous for customers than it is for workers, the majority of whom are women who could suffer complications should they get pregnant.

"Oftentimes, workers are exposed seven to 10 hours a day," said Julia Lou, with Asian Health Services. "The amount of exposure adds up."

Dubbed the "toxic trio," toluene, dibutyl phthalate and formaldehyde are the three chemical culprits at the heart of the initiative.

Toluene is a solvent most commonly used in gasoline, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. While it hasn’t been proven cancerous, it can cause fatigue, headaches, nausea, irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, sore throat, and dizziness.

Toluene has been shown to cause birth defects in the children of pregnant women exposed to high levels of toluene or mixed solvents by inhalation, according to the EPA.

Little is known about the effects of dibutyl phthalate, which is used to make flexible plastics. It has not been classified as a human carcinogen, but studies among rats and mice have shown the chemical is moderately toxic when inhaled by the animals, according to the EPA.

Formaldehyde, a colorless, pungent-smelling gas, is probably best known for its use in embalming fluid.

A known carcinogen, formaldehyde in high concentrations can trigger attacks in people with asthma.
Prolonged exposure can also cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing, according to the EPA.

These nail polishes have been found not to contain the “toxic trio,” according to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control:

  • CM
  • China Glaze Black label (black top)
  • Color Club
  • Zoya
  • Dior
  • Essie
  • OPI
  • Orly
  • Priti
  • Pure Ice
  • NuBar

If they’re concerned, customers are encouraged to check the labels on nail polish bottles for a list of ingredients.

The Healthy Nail Salon Program will provide free support and trainings for interested salons, the organization said. Those salons that comply with the requirements will earn official recognition and free promotion by the city of Santa Monica.

"This program is a win-win for all of us," said Karl Bruskotter, from the Santa Monica Office of Sustainability and the Environment.

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