Nail Salon Worker Health

Many people, mostly women, working in nail salons across the world, are exposed to a host of chemicals potentially harmful to their health. The lack of chemical regulation in nail salon products worldwide allows the levels of toxicity to go unchecked. Daily exposure to this toxic mixture (including formaldehyde, toluene, acrylate esters and dibutyl phthalates, to name a few) has been shown to lead to respiratory, dermatological and reproductive health issues. The physical working conditions in nail salons also pose a range of ergonomic problems.

In many countries, the nail salon workforce consists of predominantly immigrant and newcomer women as it remains a field they can often get into without dedicated training or certification and without command of the dominant language of the country. It is thus a field where, in addition to health issues, workers sometimes face wage exploitation, other labour rights violations, verbal abuse and racism.

Because of the precarious nature of their work and their need for income, it is a workforce where most are reluctant to speak up about injustices and harmful working conditions.

Threats to nail salon worker health tend to be most pronounced in the discount nail salon sector found in urban settings. Here, competition for business results in low service prices, precarious working hours, low wages and usually no benefits. Limited resources prevent the business owners from creating healthier work environments (e.g. improving ventilation).

The COVID-19 pandemic has added an additional layer of complexity and vulnerability to the nail salon worker’s life, with a heavier focus on the use of cleaning and disinfecting products, containing additional toxic chemicals. Lack of protective workers’ rights in many countries has also increased vulnerability in this sector where most workers have little access to the government-funded relief benefits that organized workers enjoy. Because their work requires that they work in close proximity to their clients, they are additionally vulnerable to transmissible infection since these employers rarely provide adequate PPE.

Health, social justice and labour organizations in a number of jurisdictions (in North America, for example: the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition, and Adhikaar in New York, VietLEAD in Philadelphia, the Michigan Healthy Nail Salon Cooperative, Women’s Voices for the Earth in Montana, the Healthy Nail Salon Network in Toronto and the Manitoba Federation of Labour Occupational Health Centre in Winnipeg) have stepped up to work directly with nail technicians to fight for improved working conditions, better regulation of toxic chemicals and better workplace ventilation.

The WHWB Nail Salon Working Group

The Nail Salon Working Group of WHWB (created 2022) is dedicated to creating an international network of nail technicians, activist allies, and researchers intent on sharing existing resources and strategies to help improve the life of nail technicians across the world. If you are interested in becoming involved with the Nail Salon Working Group, please contact us by clicking the button below.