Nail Polishes May Contain Toxins Linked To Birth Defects, Cancer

An emerging report reveals that nail polish may contain toxins linked to birth defects and cancer, an announcement that has many nail salon owners concerned.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control is scheduled to issue a report today indicating that investigators discovered toxic chemicals in a number of nail products touted to be toxic-free, said the LA Times. The study, based on a sampling of products purchased at Bay Area sellers in California, looked at the so-called “toxic trio”: formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate. According to the state of California, these chemicals are carcinogenic and have been linked to birth defects.

“It is just disheartening, distressing, and disturbing as a consumer and a regulator,” Debbie Raphael, director of the Department, told the LA Times. According to Raphael, the results were surprising and indicated that California must collaborate more closely with nail product makers to ensue accurate labeling; regulators must also learn if safer alternatives exist for both consumers and nail salon workers. “The question that we want to engage industry in is, is it necessary to use these chemicals?” Raphael added.

There’s not much in the way of regulation when it comes to nail products, Thu Quacha, a research scientist with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California and an expert in the nail salon industry, told the LA Times. Quacha pointed out that any level of toxin in nail products poses a danger to salon workers, especially when there is insufficient ventilation. “Low levels in the products really add up when you are using them constantly,” she added.

Some cities have begun to take steps against the potential hazards, said the LA Times For instance, in 2011 in Boston, health officials approved regulations mandating salons to obtain health permits and to establish increased worker protection. Also, coming up this summer in San Francisco, the city will initiate formal recognition for salons that use toxic-free products, said the LA Times. The ordinance received support from the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, a worker organization and educator that also works to obtain policy changes that improve salon health.

Meanwhile, Julia Liou, co-founder of the collaborative and public health administrator at Asian Health Services in Oakland, said the report could mitigate salon owners work to protect their staff. “This is a major public health issue and it really interferes with workers’ right to a healthy work environment,” Liou told the LA Times. “Workers shouldn’t have to suffer health impacts because a manufacturer is making false claims,” she added.

Nail companies are calling for health officials to focus on salon ventilation and protective gear, not products, Doug Schoon, scientist and co-chairman of the Nail Manufacturers Council, told the LA Times. “Instead of saying throw all the chemicals out, we should be teaching people how to use them in a safe fashion,” he said. “Nail polish has been used safely for decades,” he noted.

Last year, we wrote that another study revealed that unsafe levels of chemicals routinely used in nail salons could be harming the health of nail workers. The study was conducted by researchers at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California and Asian Health Services and was published in the American Journal of Public Health. Toluene a solvent associated with neurological, reproductive, and endocrine damage, and other chemicals, including a chemical banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1974, were identified.

Workers reported irritations, headaches, nausea, and breathing issues upon entering the work place; irritations of the nose, throat, lungs, skin, and eyes were among the most prevalent symptoms

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