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A nail salon manicure.

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 or manicurists or 'Nailists' (the well-known appellation of nail technicians in Vietnam, Japan and some Southeast Asian countries)."

Nail salons offer a variation of options for nail care. This includes acrylics, silk or fiberglass wraps, French manicures, polish, pedicures, etc. Some nail salons are offering one-stop beauty services. In addition to nail services, these one-stop nail salons offer facial treatments, waxing, and skin care.

Generally, those working in nail salons are called nail technicians. In some areas throughout the UK and USA, districts require nail technicians to have formal, state recognised qualifications in order to be able to grant licenses to the salons. Also nail salons have always been mainly for women, but since then men have become more distant from them.

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 it is roughly 59%-80%.[1] The majority of these women are Vietnamese immigrants. The dominance of Vietnamese in the nail salon industry begun when many of them arrived in US in the aftermath of Vietnam war. Tippi Hedren, the Hollywood actress, as a part of charity working in Vietnamese refugee camp was trying to find vocations to help them integrate into U.S. society. She brought in her personal manicurist to teach a group of 20 Vietnamese women the craft of doing nails.[2][3][4] The training required for nail salon work is short and inexpensive, the work does not require high English proficiency, and the work hours tend to be flexible enough to allow immigrant mothers to attend to family obligations. Also, the money involved in opening nail salon was small.

Nail care servicesEdit

A Havana nail salon.

Baltimore Nail And Spa offer the following services:

Wages and working conditionsEdit

Wages and working conditions in New York City, a major center for nail salons in North America, are poor. As of 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 had not been completed.[5] The manicure workforce is predominantly recent immigrants from East Asia; many have limited English; some are illegal immigrants. There are some Hispanic workers. Many of the nearly 2,000 nail salons in the New York City area are owned by Koreans who are the top of the pecking order while Hispanics are on the bottom.[5] On May 10, 2015, after publication of The New York Times investigation, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo announced creation of an emergency multi-agency Enforcement Task Force to address the numerous problems exposed by the investigation.[6]

Work environmentEdit

Concerns about the work environment quality of nail salons can be discussed in conversations about Occupational safety and health, as there is some evidence that suggest nail salon workers are subjected to potentially unjust, hazardous working conditions.[7] Occupational safety and health concerns is a component of environmental justice. In surveys conducted of Vietnamese-American nail salon workers, many responses suggest that the work environment may be setting the space for 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. However, the study showed that one-third of the surveyed shops had only one single door for ventilation with no secondary air pathway.[1]

Due to the nature of salon work, many nail technicians are required to wear masks and gloves. Other surveys also conducted on similar worker populations yielded results of 90% wearing masks and 70% wearing gloves to work.[8]

Typical responses by workers when interviewed were:[8]

  • "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"

Chemical exposuresEdit

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, like toluene and dibutyl phthalatesare 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.[9]

The following table is taken from the survey Results from a Community-based Occupational Health Survey Of Vietnamese-American Nail Salon Workers[8]. 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)
nitrocellulose unknown
tosylamide/formaldehyde resin dermatitis
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

There are organizations and coalitions such as the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance that address these worker rights and exposure issues nail technicians face. These movements provide the platform for conversations about environmental justice.

Relevant policies and regulationsEdit

State levelEdit

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.[10]
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.[11]

Federal levelEdit

Enacted in 1976, this federal act provides the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) the authority to regulate certain chemical substances.[12] 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.


  1. ^ a b Quach, Thu; Kim-Dung Nguyen; Phuong-An Doan-Billings; Linda Okahara; Cathyn Fan; Peggy Reynolds (March 1, 2008). "A Preliminary Survey of Vietnamese Nail Salon Workers in Alameda County, California". Journal of Community Health. 33 (5): 336–343. doi:10.1007/s10900-008-9107-7. PMID 18478317.
  2. ^ Morris, Regan (3 May 2015). "How manicures saved Vietnam refugees". BBC News – via
  3. ^ "How Vietnamese refugees changed the face of our manicure industry". 2014-07-11.
  4. ^ [1][2]
  5. ^ a b Sarah Maslin Nir (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.
  6. ^ Sarah Maslin Nir (May 11, 2015). "Cuomo Orders Emergency Measures to Protect Workers at Nail Salons". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  7. ^ Sarah Maslin Nir (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.
  8. ^ a b c Roelofs, Cora; Lenore S. Azaroff; Christina Holcroft; Huong Nguyen; Tam Doan (August 1, 2008). "Results from a Community-based Occupational Health Survey of Vietnamese-American Nail Salon Workers". Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. 10 (4): 353–361. doi:10.1007/s10903-007-9084-4. PMID 17940905.
  9. ^ "Endocrine Disruptors". National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Retrieved 9 April 2014.
  10. ^ (PDF) Retrieved 9 April 2014. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ Retrieved 9 April 2014. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ "FDsys - Browse USCODE". Retrieved 9 April 2014.