Nail technicians exposed to high levels of chemicals in salons in Canada: study

Nail workers are exposed to higher levels of certain chemicals than employees using e-waste, according to a new Canadian study, highlighting the need for more regulation to protect manicurist.

The study, published Monday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, is the first assessment of chemical exposure among manicurists in Canada, and reveals unexpectedly high levels of exposure to certain chemicals, including flame retardants, an unknown chemical in personal care products.

Miriam Diamond, co-author and professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Earth Sciences, said in a press release.

Nail care and nail art is a thriving industry, with most businesses located in urban areas.

In Toronto alone, about 1,500 licensed establishments were in operation in 2019, the study said. This means that countless workers are handling daily with a level of chemicals that is, until now, largely unknown.

It’s a problem that nail technicians have long been aware of.

Jackie Liang told in a phone interview: “Nail salons use all kinds of chemicals, everything. “Especially the acetone, you know, every time I touch it I can feel it, it goes into my body, I can feel it. And the smell too.”

She says that when she applies the basic coats, the bad smell always makes her cough.

The 42-year-old, who works in Toronto, has been a manicurist for over a decade. Her time working in this field has left many marks.

“My skin, especially my index finger, I can feel it hurting there,” she says.

“A lot of my colleagues, a lot of manicurists like me, are immigrants and have language barriers and they know this is not good, but we just [have] no power. ”

Despite the voices of technicians, not much attention has been paid to pinpointing the exact level of risk these chemicals pose to workers.

This new study from the University of Toronto, conducted in partnership with the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center and the Healthy Nail Salon Network, aims to explore specifically what technicians in salons do. discount face chemicals.


To assess the exposures faced by workers, the researchers had 45 manicurists at 18 nail salons in Toronto wear brooches and bracelets to sample airborne chemicals as they worked. work in a shift from 4 to 9 hours.

Each participant worker wears three different sampling devices simultaneously: an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) active air sampler on their collar to sample the air in their breathing range, and then two silicon passive samplers.

The average working day of participating technicians included three manicures, two pedicures, one set of artificial nails, and one other non-manicure service.

When the researchers looked at the sampling devices, they found that the levels of chemicals in the air were higher than they expected.

The researchers detected seven phthalates and five organophosphate esters (OPEs). Phthalate plasticizers are chemicals that make plastics stronger, and they are commonly found in personal care products. But OPE is mainly used not only as a plasticizer but also as a flame retardant – something the researchers did not expect to find in high concentrations in nail salons.

Levels of diethyl phthalate (DEP) were more than twice those found in the average Canadian office, while the average levels of tris (2-carboxyethyl) phosphine (TCEP) and tris (1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TCIPP) — a flame retardant commonly found in indoor spaces — is about 28 times higher than the average U.S. home, according to research.

“Average OPE levels in nail workers’ bracelets were comparable to TCEP, but at least three times higher for TCIPP, TDCIPP and TPhP than among e-waste workers in Canada, and Bangladesh,” the study states.

Although the researchers asked workers to record the nail services they provided, they found that the number of services provided during a shift did not significantly affect the chemical levels that were provided. receiving sensor.

“Some of the chemicals studied have certain restrictions on their use (or proposed restrictions) under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act,” the release explains. “However, most of these chemicals are not clearly regulated in Ontario workplaces. The specific source of these chemicals in nail salons was not identified in this study.”

Not all findings were negative. A specific chemical that has been banned for use in cosmetics under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act has only been detected at low levels.

“Detecting low levels of exposure to DEHP plasticizers is important – it shows that current regulations for this compound are working,” says Diamond.

The study notes that DEHP can be found in building products such as vinyl floor tiles or upholstery, which may explain why it was detected.


When Liang heard the results of this new study, she was not surprised.

“I’m not surprised we know,” she said. “As nail technicians, we know chemicals are not good for health.

“Most nail salons are small, they don’t have good ventilation, and as nail technicians, we work long hours.”

When working with these chemicals, she adds, the effects aren’t immediately apparent, so it’s hard to clearly connect the cause.

“Chemical is not ‘you die if you touch’, it’s long term exposure, because you don’t know if you have cancer because you work as a manicurist or maybe [it’s] just your body,” she said.

Certain chemicals discovered in salons have been linked to health problems.

Concern may arise that exposure to certain phthalates and OPEs and their metabolites is associated with an increased risk of adult papillary thyroid cancer, a higher risk of endometriosis , increased uterine volume, decreased stool volume in females, and decreased semen quality in males,” the study stated.

“There is a particular concern for manicurists about the effects on fertility as most of those in the industry are female and of childbearing age.”

The majority of manicurists are women – in this study, 93% of the workers involved were women between the ages of 21-58.

Victoria Arrandale, co-author and associate professor at the University of Toronto, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said in the release.

Liang said it feels like when the nail technicians themselves try to speak up, no one pays attention.

“Maybe our voices are too low, maybe they don’t want to hear anything from us.”

She said it is important that more people and governments pay attention to this issue so that nail technicians can continue to provide their services without sacrificing their health.

“I really enjoy this job,” she said. “I like beauty things. When I do my clients’ nails, I feel great when they’re happy. They smile, they say, ‘thank you’, you know, ‘this is beautiful.’

The big companies that supply nail salons don’t want the government to push them with stricter regulations, Liang said.

She points out that newer products like dip powders can be marketed as organic although dip powders still need to be sealed with other things like activators, meaning those chemicals are still involved.

“This study shows us that our federal government needs to pay attention to making products used in nail salons safer, for both customers and nail technicians.” Van Tran, nail technician and nail salon outreach worker at Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center, said in the release.

Liang isn’t sure if a single study can make a difference, but is hopeful that Canada is well on its way towards better regulations.

“I love my job, I want to see my workplace have good products, safer products,” she said. “It’s good for the customer and for us. For both of us.”

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