Nail Salon Workers – Repeated And Prolonged Exposure To Variety Of Chemicals Could Put Workers At Risk

They pamper us and make us feel special. They
work long hours for low wages and English is usually their second
language, if then. They are mainly Vietnamese women who make their
living giving manicures and pedicures. They also suffer from acute
health effects associated with the chemicals they use in that work,
according to a new survey from the Northern California Cancer Center and
Asian Health Services of Oakland. This is one of the first such surveys
to focus on this understudied workforce.

“Nail care workers routinely handle products containing many potentially
harmful compounds, some of which are carcinogens or have endocrine
disrupting effects, yet are virtually unregulated,” explained Thu Quach,
MPH, of the Northern California Cancer Center. “Our survey is part of a
pilot project designed to characterize Vietnamese nail salon workers in
Alameda County, California in order to inform future health
interventions and reduce occupational exposures. Nail salon workers are
likely to have higher exposures to these compounds than the customers
they serve.”

Many toxic and potentially hazardous ingredients, including solvents,
plasticizers, resins and acids, are commonly found in nail care
products. The nail salon industry is recognized as one of the fastest
growing in the United States. Of California’s more than 35,000 salons,
the vast majority are owned or operated by Vietnamese women.

“A majority of the workers reported health concerns from exposures to
workplace chemicals,” reports Dung Nguyen of Asian Health Services who
directed the face-to-face interviews with 201 Vietnamese nail salon
workers at 74 salons. “Many of them reported having some health problem
after they began working in the industry, particularly skin and eye
irritation, breathing difficulties and headaches.” according to Nguyen.

“Our findings highlight a critical need for further investigation into
the breast cancer risk of nail salon workers, underscored by the
workers’ routine use of carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals,
their prevalent health concerns about such chemicals, and their high
level of acute health problems,” adds Quach, “Moreover, the predominance
of Vietnamese immigrant women in this workforce makes it an important
target group for further research and health interventions.” The
NCCC/AHS partnership has recently been funded by California’s Breast
Cancer Research Program to further investigate these concerns.

A Preliminary Survey of Vietnamese Nail Salon Workers in Alameda County,
California was published on May 14th electronically on SpringerLink
and is scheduled to
appear in the October print issue of Journal of Community Health. The
full PDF version of the article is available here.

About the Northern California Cancer Center

The Northern California Cancer Center is a nationally recognized leader in
understanding the causes and prevention of cancer and in improving the
quality of life for individuals living with cancer. The organization has
been working with scientists, educators, patients, clinicians, and
community leaders since 1974. NCCC is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit with 150
employees and a $15 million operating budget.

Northern California Cancer Center