Nailing Down Safety

NIOSH, in cooperation with CDC, has announced a new study to research the effectiveness of one of the industry's universally accepted inhalation mitigation tools: the downdraft vented nail table.

Florida Today recently reported that a woman in Melbourne, Fla., settled a lawsuit with Viera nail salon. The woman claimed a $25 pedicure cost her the loss of two toes, $67,000 in medical bills, and more than two months of missed work. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun reported that a woman in Northwest Baltimore suffered second-degree burns over 40 percent of her body when a bowl of heated acetone ignited while she was having her artificial nails removed.

When proper safety procedures are not followed, injuries at nail salons can become all too common. Nail salon patrons can be exposed to hazards, but salon employees, who are constantly subjected to dermal and inhalation exposures, are at an even greater risk. Because nail salons deal with hazardous chemicals, the risks also can include skin irritation, allergic reaction, and serious eye injury. The industry is regulated on a state-by-state basis, each outlining its requirements for nail salon worker certification and industry best practices.

Nail Product Chemicals
Nail products for home and salon use fall under the definition of cosmetics and are largely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Although nail products contain potentially harmful ingredients, they are allowed on the market because they are safe when used as directed.

For example, here is a sample of some common nail product ingredients listed in FDA's "Using Nail Products" guidance:

  • Acetonitrile is the primary ingredient in artificial nail removers. Under 16 CFR 1700.14 (18), all household glue removers in liquid form containing more than 500 milligrams of acetonitrile in a single container are required to be contained in child-resistant packaging. The Consumer Product Safety Commission enforces this requirement under the authority of the Poison Prevention Packaging Act (15 U.S.C. 1471-1476).
  • Formaldehyde is found in nail hardeners. It can cause an irritation or allergic reaction to those sensitized to this compound. According to FDA, certain individuals also may become allergic to toluene sulfonamide-formaldehyde resin, a common ingredient in nail preparations. The use of shields to keep the hardener away from the skin may reduce the likelihood of a skin irritation, but the public is advised to read the product ingredient statement on the product label to determine whether formaldehyde and toluene sulfonamide-formaldehyde resin are present and to avoid these ingredients.
  • Ethyl methacrylate monomer was once found in artificial nails. In the 1970s, based on discussions with medical dermatology experts and its investigations of fingernail damage and deformity and contact dermatitis injuries, FDA chose to remove from the market products containing 100 percent methyl methacrylate monomers. This was done largely through court proceedings, resulting in preliminary injunctions against one firm, several seizure actions, and many voluntary recalls.
  • Toluene is used as a solvent in a variety of nail products, including nail polish, nail hardeners, and polish removers. In 1987, it was reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel, which concluded it was safe for cosmetic use in nail products when limited to concentrations no greater than 50 percent. Another evaluation in 2005 re-confirmed this conclusion.

Safety Precautions
In March 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a guidance titled "Protecting the Health of Nail Salon Workers." This document was the product of a collected effort from many safety agencies and industry experts. Here's a general overview of its listed workforce hazard mitigation procedures.

To minimize inhalation, the EPA guide recommends nail salons install a local exhaust ventilation system near work tables that is intended to effectively capture vapors and dust, or expel them from the work place, along with a system that will exchange indoor air with fresh air from outside the building to maintain good air quality. To achieve this, EPA recommends two options: a work table with an exhaust vent embedded in it that is vented to the outdoors, or a ceiling or wall-mounted exhaust system with exhaust intake suspended above the work table.

Upkeep of these systems is important, as owners should use professional-quality room air cleaning services that replace charcoal and dust filters regularly and according to the manufacturer's directions. Failure to do so will make such ventilation systems ineffective.

Employees should wear a dust mask if recommended by a product's Material Safety Data Sheet to prevent the inhaling of dust particles, especially when filing or shaping artificial nail enhancements. N95 or dust masks approved by NIOSH are recommended. Surgical masks may help prevent the spread of germs but will not protect the wearer from dust or vapors. Typically, an organic vapor respirator is not required if adequate ventilation is provides to eliminate the airborne hazards; however, if a nail salon worker has a special need due to a pre-existing health condition (e.g. asthma or allergies), he or she should check the following sources to determine proper type and proper fit guidelines: OSHA Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) and the Hazard Communication standard (29 CFR 1910.1200).

To minimize skin exposure, employees should wash their hands before and after performing each service and should wear disposable nitrile gloves or the glove type recommended by a product's MSDS. Gloves are important for nail salon worker because they help to prevent damage to their nails and skin. The skin can absorb potentially harmful ingredients that can cause skin allergies, irritation, or other related problems. Among these harmful ingredients are solvents that damage the skin by removing natural oils from the skin (defatting). This can lead to skin dryness and/or irritation, making it easier for other ingredients to enter the body. Nitrile gloves provide the best protection; latex and vinyl gloves are permeable to many nail products and should not be used.

About the Author

Marc Barrera, former e-news editor of Occupational Health & Safety, is Content Manager at Generations Federal Credit Union in San Antonio, Texas.

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