A new study has found that nail salon workers are reportedly exposed to high levels of harmful carcinogenic chemicals.
Published in the journal Environmental Pollution, the study establishes the links of these chemicals’ effect on the health of nail salon workers for the first time, Forbes reports.
Researchers at the University of Colorado examined levels of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) usually found in nail products. These include formaldehyde, a common organic specimen preservative widely “known to be a human carcinogen.”
Research lead author Lupita Montoya, a Research Associate in The University of Colorado, Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, noted: “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.”
According to Montoya, since over 90% of nail salons are small businesses, they rarely have the resources to enforce staff health and safety practices. Most of them also declined to take part in the experiment.
In 2017, Montoya and her team were able to convince six salons in Colorado to participate on the condition of anonymity. In the study, they soon discovered that air inside the salons contained formaldehyde and other toxic compounds. Benzene, which has been previously linked to blood cancers, is among the potentially harmful chemicals.
Scientists then modeled the impact of the increased exposure to benzene and formaldehyde over 20 years on the risk of the workers developing certain types of cancer.
The cancer risk was determined according to thresholds set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Based on their projections, the risk for developing lung cancer, head and neck cancer, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma in all of the workers is increased up to 100 times after 20 years of exposure in such chemicals.
Scientists warned that such a prolonged exposure has a similar effect to working an at oil refinery or garage who are at risk of developing cancer of the stomach, esophagus, and lungs due to asbestos exposure.
However, researchers have noted that this does not pose as much danger to customers.
“It really depends on how much time you spend in and around that environment,” Montoya was quoted as saying. “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 researchers recommend placing specially-treated wood or coal in nail salons as it could absorb airborne chemicals via “passive diffusion.”
“We’ve seen high rates of [chemical] removal with this method in controlled lab settings – nearly 100%,” Montoya noted. “We’re still optimizing it for the field, where conditions are more unpredictable.”