Working in nail salon as bad for health as working in an oil refinery, study finds

BOULDER, Colo. — Manicurists and other nail salon workers face dangerous health risks, including cancer, comparable to people who work in oil refineries, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder say the elevated risk is due chronic air pollution from noxious fumes and indoor pollutants present, such as formaldehyde and benzene.

The study monitored volatile organic compound (VOC) levels in six nail salons in Colorado. Nail salon workers often report symptoms like headaches, respiratory difficulties, and skin irritation, but research into the long-term effects of VOC exposure in nail salons is scant.

“The study provides some of the first hard evidence that these environments are dangerous for workers and that better policies need to be enacted to protect them,” says lead author Lupita Montoya, a research associate in CU Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, in a statement.

Montoya and her team found that while formaldehyde levels were similar to those measured in other common settings, benzene levels were found in higher concentrations than expected in all six nail salons. Benzene has long been linked to leukemia.

The researchers also distributed questionnaires to the employees about employment practices, safety practices, and health symptoms they experience. Nail salon technicians reported working an average of 52.5 hours per week, with some working as much as 80 hours. Seven in 10 workers reported at least one adverse symptom, most commonly headaches, skin irritation, and eye irritation.

The study showed that the lifetime cancer risk for nail salon workers was up to 100 times higher than baseline Environmental Protection Agency levels. Customers however, can breathe easy, so to speak. The little time they spend getting manicures or pedicures isn’t likely to cause them harm.

“It really depends on how much time you spend in and around that environment,” says Montoya. “Customers spend a fraction of the time in salons that workers do. Unless they have pretty severe allergies or asthma, there’s not much for customers to be concerned about.”

The study was published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

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