San Francisco’s Nail Salons Go Green


San Francisco is the first in the country to pass an ordinance regulating the use of toxic chemicals in nail polishes, used in nails salons. It’s good news for customers, of course. But it’s better news for the 1800 women who work many hours in the 200 salons, many of whom are of Vietnamese descent, notes the Ms. Foundation’s blog Igniting Change. 

The New York Times reports:

“Under the ordinance, the city will publicly identify establishments that use polishes (including top and base coats) free of the chemicals toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde — the so-called toxic trio. The three are on the hit list of the California Safe Cosmetics Act as causing cancer or birth defects.”

Of the ordinance, the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative (a key player in fighting for healthier working conditions for salon workers across the state) says:

“Many workers experience negative health impacts due to the chemicals in nail products they work with on a daily basis. A goal of the ordinance is to reduce negative reproductive and other health impacts of long-term exposure to toxic chemicals for nail salon workers.”

The collaborative is comprised of a diverse group of women’s health and rights organization, many of whom focus on Asian women’s health including Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Asian Immigrant Workers Advocates. Other groups include Planned Parenthood, Women’s Voice for the Earth, and the Center for Environmental Health.

Vietnamese nail salon workers make up anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of all of those who work in nail salons around the country, reports the New York Times – and many of those are young, immigrant women. They are women who spend long days in small, poorly ventilated spaces hunched over nail polishes and solvents known or suspected to cause cancers.

It’s why the CHNSC is also pushing support for the Federal Safe Cosmetics Act – to protect workers  around the country from the unsafe chemicals found in nail polishes and other tools of the trade.

To learn more, you can view the Brave New Foundation film on the issue:

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  • aligatorhardt

    As a previous cabinetmaker, I was surprised to notice when working on counters in a salon, that the nail polish finishes are basically the same as furniture finishes that are only available to profesional workers. These finishes are not sold to the general public, as special respirators and good ventilation are required for safe use. Now that I am retired with pulmonary disability, I can say that even the approved protections are not satisfactory for guarding your health when using these materials. In the salon, the place is air conditioned with no exhaust fans, which means the fumes from the finishes are constantly surrounding all the employees and the clients. Shortness of breath and headaches are common symptoms of exposure to the dangerous fumes. There are waterborne clear finishes that have good staying power on fingernails and good gloss, but they are slower to dry and tend to blush white if rushed. This issue of poisonous fumes is serious and people should find alternative finishes or work under exhaust fans at least.