Researchers have warned that nail salon employees face increased cancer risks — potentially as much as 100 times higher — due to exposures to chemicals such as formaldehyde and benzene at work, with the result that working in a salon could be as dangerous as working at an oil refinery or auto garage.

The new study, by scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder, monitored volatile organic compound (VOC) levels in six Colorado nail salons, where technicians commonly work long hours and report symptoms such as headaches, respiratory difficulties and skin irritation.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that long-term exposure to carcinogenic compounds significantly raises the chances of developing cancers such as leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Dr Lupita Montoya, lead author of the research, says her interest in researching airborne hazards in nail salons dates back nearly a decade.

She recalls visiting a salon years ago and being struck by the pungent smell of open chemicals used in gel and acrylic nail applications.

Drawing on her background as a mechanical engineer, she suspected the air quality couldn’t be very good in such a confined space with poor ventilation.

The study involved the monitoring of VOCs such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes (BTEX, collectively) along with formaldehyde.

While formaldehyde levels were similar to those measured in other settings, the study turned up higher-than-expected concentrations of harmful benzene, which has been linked to leukemia, in all six salons.

The study found that for workers in some salons, lifetime cancer risk was up to 100 times higher than baseline EPA-issued levels.

Dr Montoya said, “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.”

Last reviewed 14 May 2019