The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (February 2018)
A nail salon or nail bar is a specialty beauty salon establishment that primarily offers nail care services such as manicures, pedicures, and nail enhancements. Often, nail salons also offer skin care services. Manicures are also offered by general beauty salons, spas, and hotels. People who work at nail salons are usually called nail technicians, manicurists, or nailists.
Nail salons offer a variety of options for nail care, examples of which include acrylics, silk or fiberglass wraps, French manicures, polish, and pedicures. Some nail salons offer one-stop beauty services. In addition to nail services, one-stop nail salons offer facial treatments, waxing, and skin care.
Generally, those working in nail salons are referred to as nail technicians. In some areas throughout the United States, nail technicians must hold formal, state-recognized qualifications in order to be able to work at nail salons.
Currently, the industry estimates that almost 40% of nail salon technicians in the US are Vietnamese women. The highest density of Vietnamese nail technicians is in California, where approximately 59-80% of nail technicians are of Vietnamese descent. The majority of these women are Vietnamese immigrants.
The prevalence of Vietnamese women in the nail salon industry dates back to the Vietnam war, which saw large numbers of Vietnamese immigrants arriving in the United States. Tippi Hedren, a Hollywood actress, was involved in a charity which provided vocations to Vietnamese refugee women. The goal of the charity was to help its target demographic integrate into U.S. society. Hedren invited her personal manicurist to teach a group of 20 Vietnamese women the craft of doing nails. The training required for nail salon work is short and inexpensive, the work itself does not require high English proficiency, and the work hours tend to be flexible enough to allow immigrant mothers to attend to family obligations. During this era, the costs associated with opening and operating nail salons were low.
Nail care services
Nail salons offer the following services:
- Acrylic overlays and extensions
- UV gel overlays and extensions
- Dip powder nails
- SNS nails
- Silk/fibreglass overlays and extensions
- Nail design
- Nail art
- Shellac nails
- Eyelash extensions
- Eyebrow tinting
Wages and working conditions
Nail salon wages and working conditions in New York City, a major center for nail salons in North America, are poor. In May 2015, an investigation by the New York State Department of Labor, which had been tipped off by a New York Times investigation, had been productive but was incomplete. The manicure workforce consists mostly of recent immigrants from East Asia: many have limited proficiency in English and some are illegal immigrants. Many of the nearly 2,000 nail salons in the New York City area are owned by Koreans, while Hispanics are on the bottom. On May 10, 2015, after the publication of The New York Times investigation, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the creation of an emergency multi-agency Enforcement Task Force to address the numerous problems exposed by the investigation.
There is some evidence to suggest that nail salon workers are subjected to potentially unjust, hazardous working conditions. In surveys conducted on Vietnamese-American nail salon workers, many responses suggested that the work environment may cause negative health consequences. According to Standard 62-1989: Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Quality of the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration, Air Conditioning Engineers, adequate supply of outdoor air should be about 20 cubic feet per minute per occupant. This necessitates multiple pathways for air to enter and exit the room. Such pathways include, but are not limited to, windows and doors. The study revealed that one-third of the surveyed nail salons had only one single door for ventilation with no secondary air pathway.
Due to the nature of salon work, many nail technicians are required to wear masks and gloves. Other surveys conducted on similar worker populations revealed that 90% of workers wore masks and 70% wore gloves to work.
Common responses by interviewed workers included:
- "We know chemicals are dangerous, the owner tells us to wear mask"
- "Says that chemicals are harmful so always need to keep the ventilator on and close lids, covers of chemicals surely."
- "Because I am young and pregnant and I don't want to breathe in the dust and chemicals – I'm afraid that it might affect my child later on"
Nail technicians use beauty products like nail polish, nail polish removers, artificial nails, adhesives, and disinfectants throughout the day. Compared to the average individual, they are exposed to the chemical ingredients the products contain on a much higher magnitude. Some of the more potent chemicals are toluene, formaldehyde, ethyl methacrylate (EMA), and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). Nearly all chemicals are reported to be eye, skin, nose, and throat irritants. Some chemicals, like toluene and dibutyl phthalates, are known endocrine disruptors. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with endocrine system, which is regulated by hormones. These hormonal disruptors can potentially lead to tumors, birth defects, reproductive harm, neurological, developmental, and immune degradation. Research has suggested that endocrine disruptors pose the greatest risk during prenatal and postnatal development.
The following table is taken from the survey Results from a Community-based Occupational Health Survey Of Vietnamese-American Nail Salon Workers. It lists the chemical ingredients found in nail salon products and associates them with potential health effects. Note that this is not an exhaustive list of all chemical compounds found for all nail products.
|Nail products||Common chemical ingredients||Potential health effects|
|Nail polish||ethyl acetate||irritation eyes, skin, nose, throat; dermatitis|
|butyl acetate||irritation eyes, skin, upper respiratory system; headache|
|ethyl alcohol||irritation eyes, skin, nose; headache, CNS syndrome; cough; liver damage; anemia; reproductive effects|
|isopropyl alcohol||irritation eyes, nose, throat; CNS syndrome, headache; dry, crackin skin|
|acetone||irritation eyes, nose throat; headache; CNS syndrome; dermatitis|
|methyl ethyl ketone||see above|
|toluene||irritation eyes, nose throat; headache; CNS syndrome; dermatitis; dilated pupils, lacrimation; anxiety, muscle fatigue, insomnia; paresthesia; liver, kidney damage|
|xylene||irritation eyes, nose, throat; headache; CNS syndrome; corneal damage; dermititis; reproductive effects|
|dibutyl phthalate||irritation eyes, upper respiratory system, stomach; reproductive effects (fetotoxic)|
|titanium dioxide||lung fibrosis; potential occupational carcinogen|
|nail polish removers||acetone||see above|
|ethyl acetate||see above|
|butyl acetate||see above|
|artificial nails||ethyl methacrylate||irritation eyes, skin, nose, throat; allergic contact dermatitis; respiratory sensitizer (asthmagen)|
|methyl methacrylate||same as ethyl methacrylate|
|butyl methacrylate||same as ethyl methacrylate|
|methacrylic acid||irritation eyes, skin, nose throat; allergic contact dermatitis|
|methyl ethyl ketone||see above|
|Nail tips adhesives||ethyl cyanoacrylate||irritation eyes, skin, nose, throat; allergic contact dermatitis|
|artificial nail removers||acetone||see above|
|N-methyl pyrrolidone||dermatitis, reproductive effects|
|acetonitrile||irritation eyes, nose throat; asphyxia; nausea, vomiting; chest pain; CNS syndrome; convulsions; in animals: liver, kidney damage|
Organizations and coalitions, such as the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance, address worker rights and exposure concerns faced by nail technicians. These movements provide platforms for conversation regarding occupational safety and health, which is a part of environmental justice.
Relevant policies and regulations
- Enacted in 2005, this senate bill requires the full disclosure of all ingredients of products sold in California to the California Department of Health Services. In addition, if the substances are known to cause cancer or reproductive harm, the products will be subject to investigation by the Division of Environmental and Occupational Disease Control.
- Enacted in 1986, this proposition requires the state of California to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. All California businesses with ten or more employees must also provide "clear and reasonable" warning before exposing any individual to a chemical on the aforementioned list.
- Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) (15 U.S.C § 2601)
- Enacted in 1976, this federal act provides the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) the authority to regulate certain chemical substances. Currently, cosmetics are excluded from regulation under the TSCA but there have been campaign efforts that hope to extend the EPA's regulatory jurisdiction to include cosmetics.
- Quach T, Nguyen KD, Doan-Billings PA, Okahara L, Fan C, Reynolds P (October 2008). "A preliminary survey of Vietnamese nail salon workers in Alameda County, California". Journal of Community Health. 33 (5): 336–43. doi:10.1007/s10900-008-9107-7. PMID 18478317. S2CID 33266007.
- Morris R (3 May 2015). "How manicures saved Vietnam refugees". BBC News.
- Glaser S (16 January 2014). "Why Vietnamese Americans rule the nail salon scene". Matador.
- Tolentino J (8 May 2015). "How Tippi Hedren Jump-Started the Vietnamese Nail Salon Monopoly". Jezebel.
- Nir SM (May 7, 2015). "The Price of Nice Nails Manicurists are routinely underpaid and exploited, and endure ethnic bias and other abuse, The New York Times has found". The New York Times. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
- Nir SM (May 11, 2015). "Cuomo Orders Emergency Measures to Protect Workers at Nail Salons". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
- Nir SM (May 8, 2015). "Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers Some ingredients used in nail products have been tied to cancer, miscarriages, lung diseases and other ailments. The industry has long fought regulations". The New York Times. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
They come in usually with breathing problems, some symptoms similar to an allergy, and also asthma symptoms — they cannot breathe,” he said during a break between patients this winter. “Judging from the symptoms with these women, it seems that they are either smokers, secondhand smokers or asthma patients, but they are none of the above. They work for nail salons.
- Roelofs C, Azaroff LS, Holcroft C, Nguyen H, Doan T (August 2008). "Results from a community-based occupational health survey of Vietnamese-American nail salon workers". Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. 10 (4): 353–61. doi:10.1007/s10903-007-9084-4. PMID 17940905. S2CID 35060229.
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