N ail care is the fastest growing sector in the beauty industry, generating more than $6 billion annually in sales nationwide. In California alone, there are approximately 264,000 cosmetologists who are licensed to provide nail services in addition to other personal care services such as hair care as well as 115,000 manicurists.1 It is reported that almost half of manicurists nationwide earn less than $18,200 per year.2 In California, the overwhelming majority of manicurists are women of color and are of reproductive age.*
The primary language of a large sector of the nail salon community is not English.
Although the exact percentage of California manicurists who are Vietnamese is not known, estimates range from 59%-80%.3, 4 Assuming that the English language capacity of the Vietnamese nail salon community is at all similar to that of the Vietnamese general population of California, most of those individuals are limited English proficient (LEP).5, 6, 7 The nail salon industry represents a significant niche market for Vietnamese immigrants in California and has become an economic cornerstone of the community. Other first languages represented in the nail salon community include Spanish, Chinese, and Tagalog.
Information on chemicals in the workplace is generally not easily understood by lay people.
California law requires that chemical manufacturers and distributors provide a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for every product that they produce or
import that contains a hazardous chemical.8 MSDSs are pages of highly technical information about the chemical ingredients in a product and their health effects, as well as important health warnings, storage and handling instructions, and emergency first aid procedures. MSDSs pertaining to nail salon products are generally not accessible or translated into Vietnamese.
The nail salon community is exposed to an array of harmful chemicals.
Many nail salon products contain harmful substances that are associated with a range of illnesses and conditions. The results of a 2007 study of Vietnamese-American nail technicians suggest an elevated prevalence of work related health effects, such as musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory symptoms, skin problems and headaches, compared to the general population.9
Nail polish contains dibutyl phthalate (DBP), which is commonly used to reduce brittleness and cracking and to enhance consistency. DBP is a female and male reproductive toxicant and a developmental toxicant.10 Data reported in several human studies clearly show an association between exposure to DBP and other phthalates and adverse developmental, and male and female reproductive effects even at very low levels.11 One study found a strong association between prenatal exposure to DBP and developmental effects on the male reproductive system in boys after birth.12 The chemical is banned for use in all cosmetics, including nail products, sold in the European Union.13
Unfortunately, there is relatively little demographic and other statistical information pertaining to California cosmetologists
who perform nail care services; yet, “cosmetologists” who perform nail services and “manicurists” face similar obstacles to occupational safety and health. For purposes of this report, individuals in those two groups will be referred to collectively using such terms as “nail salon workers” and “nail technicians.”
California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative