Monday, November 13, 2006


When I was a girl, I used to watch my mother get her “nails done” by a manicurist in the back of the New Jersey beauty parlor. Today, stand-alone nail salons are proliferating so rapidly that two New Jersey towns passed ordinances prohibiting nail salons from being within 500 feet of each other. In some districts nail salons growth force out shops offering goods to shoppers and thus weakening downtown enticements. Today, free-standing nail salons dot the commercial blocks and strip malls of cities from Southern California to South Carolina. According to nail trade journals, Americans are spending more than 6 billion a year on salon services and about 239,000 people work as "licensed nail technicians.” Reportedly more than 400 manufacturers make everything from polishes, nippers, and acrylic nail-sculpting compounds to manicure tables, polish racks, and toeless pedicure socks, none of which were available when my mother had her nails done. She never heard of “basic acrylic overlays with tips” or silk or cotton nail wraps and organic and botanical products for pedicure as well as flower power wraps.

As the author of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, I am, of course interested in the ingredients in the products applied to fingernails and toe nails.

Efforts by The Campaign For Safe Cosmetics, a lobbying group, are now producing results after many years. The campaign has targeted specific brands of nail varnish that are reportedly contain ingredients including phthalates, formaldehyde, and toluene---all of which as described in my book have potential health consequences.

Sally Hansen, a major producer of nail varnish, said it is reformulating all its products to remove dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde and toluene. Other companies are also removing these ingredients prodded by California’s Prop. 65 listing chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.

The European Union has banned DBP. Recent scientific studies have linked the chemical to underdevelopment of newborn baby boys.

Toluene has also been linked to skin irritations, liver damage and anemia, while formaldehyde has been linked to cancer and lung problems.

In some salons, air filters are used to stop the smell of acrylics from hurting the client's nose or eyes.

And then there is the danger of infection from improperly sterilized instruments and water in nail salons. This has led to many physicians recommending you bring your own clippers and other tools to a salon you are patronizing. The California Department of Consumer Affairs, in the meantime, recommends the following tips. Make sure:

• The establishment license is posted prominently in the reception area
• Each operator's license is posted in plain view at his or her work station• The Board’s Health and Safety poster is displayed in the reception area
• There is adequate ventilation for release of fumes created by artificial nail products, nail polish, or other chemicals

• The salon must have clean working equipment and a clean work area.

• Licensees must wash and disinfect all tools and instruments before they can be used on customers.

• Make sure the operator never uses the same tools on you that were just used on someone else without first disinfecting them. If an item cannot be disinfected (such as a nail buffer block or an emery board), it must be throwaway immediately after use.

• Don’t allow an operator to perform a service on you if the manicurist doesn’t use a clean set of tools. The improper disinfecting of tools and equipment can spread disease and bacteria from one person to another. A prime example would be the spread of nail fungus during a manicure or pedicure.

• You have every right to ask the operator to explain the disinfection procedures before a service begins. Various viruses can be transmitted through the use of dirty instruments, including HIV and Hepatitis B.

• In addition to disinfecting tools and instruments, operators are required to wash their hands before their next client. Before an operator begins nail care services, they should also ask their clients to wash their hands.

• Don’t risk your health. If the disinfection procedure doesn’t sound adequate, you should refuse the service.

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