Assessing Occupational Exposure in Nail Salons

Introduction and Background

Nail salons in the United States have grown dramatically in number and popularity in recent years. In 2006, it was estimated that there were more than 58,000 beauty salons in the U.S., with more than 350,000 licensed nail technicians, 60 percent of whom are Vietnamese.

Personal-care products handled regularly by nail salon employees contain a wide array of chemicals that are known or suspected to be associated with skin and eye irritation, allergies, neurologic or reproductive effects. To more fully understand workers' exposure to these chemicals, students in the Justice Brandeis Semester Environmental Health and Justice program, under the direction of environmental studies professor Laura Goldin, undertook a study of nail salons in Boston in fall 2012.


We conducted a study of occupational exposure to chemicals at 15 nail salons in the Boston area from September to December 2013. We tested for exposure to acetone, formaldehyde, toluene and ethyl methacrylate and calculated the efficiency of the ventilation systems by measuring carbon-dioxide levels as well as relative humidity and temperature. We also collected information relative to salon capacity, number of workers in the salon, the geographic location of the salon, whether the salon was in an enclosed building structure, the number and location of workstations, the number of acrylic and lacquer nail services performed during the sampling day and other parameters. In addition to our full shift testing, we video recorded one acrylic manicure and two lacquer manicures while simultaneously recording changes in total volatile organic levels.

Major Findings

Major Recommendations