Working Healthy

Protecting the Salon Environment, Part II

Work safely in the salon by understanding potential chemical dangers and exercising commonsense precautions.

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series on protecting the salon environment. Part I addressed understanding product odors and the variety of air contaminants. In Part II, learn what steps you can take to protect your salon’s environment from contaminants.

illustration/Marc Galindo
<p>illustration/Marc Galindo</p>

Last month’s article covered several important ideas necessary to your understanding of how to protect the salon environment. Some chemicals used in nail services can be hazardous. Some can cause health problems ranging from headaches and nausea to kidney and liver disease. However, nail technicians do not need to suffer from any of these problems. Remember the Over-exposure Principle? Even the most dangerous chemical substance cannot harm you unless you overexpose yourself to that substance.

One way to keep exposure at safe levels is with proper ventilation. Controlling the air quality in your salon is extremely important; but the area of greatest concern to nail technicians is the quality of air in their breathing zone, the small area within about two feet of your mouth. You need to be aware of the salon air and your individual breathing zone to safeguard your health while you work.

Even if your salon has no offensive odors, proper ventilation is extremely important. Harmful air contaminants come in three forms: vapors, mists, and dust. Each can present a health risk if not controlled.

Control Product Vapors

Nail technicians have become very concerned about excessive inhalation of vapors in the salon. Vapors are formed by liquids evaporating. Contrary to the popular myth that certain liquids do not evaporate, all liquids evaporate and contribute to vapors in the air. All vapors, with or without odors, must be controlled to protect your salon environment and your health. You can’t assume that the salon air is clean just because you cannot smell certain kind of vapors. Odorless acrylics and wraps glues are good example of low-odor products that vaporize.

Even pleasant–smelling fragrances can contaminate the salon environment.

Spraying perfumes into the air or adding scents to nail products can be dangerous eliminating them; in fact, because you are unable to smell a product odor you may be likely to limit your exposure to that product and may actually increase your chance of overexposing yourself to chemical vapors. Just because a product has no odor doesn’t mean that product is harmless.

What can you do to lower your exposure to vapors? Fortunately, some of the most effective ways to eliminate vapors are easy and inexpensive.

Keep all products tightly sealed when they’re not being used. This is important because liquid products vaporize at different rates. Leaving containers open can also inhibit a product’s effectiveness and lead to accidental spills. Of course, you need certain products, conveniently available. Rather than repeatedly opening and closing the bottle, cover the top with something heavy and secure – like a marble over your dappen dish.

Use a covered waste container and empty if often. If you wipe up a spill and throw the soiled towel in the trash, vapors will be circulating in the air before long. Metal waste cans with pop-up lids help limit your exposure to vapors. Remember to empty you trash before you leave at night. God housekeeping is an important safety tools.

Don’t wipe brushes on your table towel. Most liquid nail products are volatile, meaning that eventually the product will evaporate. The product you wipe on your towel will eventually be released into your  breathing air. So, use a disposable wipe for brushes and throw it away in a covered waste container.

Conquering Dust and Mist

Mists and dust are other air contaminants. Local ventilation can remove these contaminants as well. There is much controversy about how hazardous filling dust and filling particles are to your health over long term. But whether it’s acrylic filing or common household dust, you should try to keep your inhaling of it to a minimum.

To understand the threat dust can pose to the unprotected nail technician, consider how easy it is for these microscopic particles to enter your system. For instance, the cross section of a human hair is about 50 microns. A very large dust particle is also 50 microns. Very small particles are sometimes less than one third of a micron. Or more than 150 times smaller than the width of a hair. These small particles can lodge deed into your lungs forever. The larger particles, which you can usually fall on the table top arte easily removed. Smaller particles may float around for 30 minutes or more before coming to a rest, but the slightest breeze can send them back into the air.

One way to protect yourself from airborne dust is to get the dust out of the air. Ionizers, which create ions that change the electrical charge of a dust particle, can cause the particles to fall from the air. However, unless the ionizer is actually sitting on your table in your breathing zone, it cannot prevent you from inhaling airborne dust. Ions can also make the air smell fresh; nature often produces ions after it rains. Unfortunately, knocking a dust particle from the air doesn’t’ remove it from the salon; it only settles it to some surface.

HEPA filters are high-efficiency particle removers that filter very small particles from the air. Ionizers and HEPA filters are designed to work on the entire salon environment, and well-designed systems can be effective.

While some of these filtering systems sit on your table top and appear to collect large amounts of dust, they are just collecting large visible particles that would normally fall to the table anyway. The finer, invisible particles will still be floating in your breathing zone.

Why are devices that clean dust from the room’s air unable to protect your health? The reason is because most of the dangerous dust is in the air space between you and your client.

While you are filing, that small zone is a saturated with particles, and a HEPA filter or ion generator will not keep your breathing zone free of dust when you need it most – while filing.

The device that best keeps particles from entering your lungs is a dust mask. It’s the simplest and cheapest air filtering system on the market.

Dust mask (surgical masks, painters’ mask) block particles from entering your mouth, and protect you from inhaling the microscopic dust in your breathing zone.

There are different types of dust masks available. The most effective are dust/mist respirators, which are slightly more expensive than standard mask. You can buy these respirators at chemical supply and hospital supply stores. While mask is a great barrier to dust, it will not protect you from vapor particles are much too small. Also, a few dust particles can get past this protective barrier, although if you wore mask religiously you would sufficiently reduce your exposure to a very safe level.

Unfortunately, many nail technicians are reluctant to wear masks. They feel uncomfortable or they are concerned that wearing a mask will be perceived by clients to mean that something is dangerous. However, once you adjust to wearing one, you may find the health advantages outweigh any convenience.

The argument about scaring your clients is easily disputed. Do you really think a client will leave you because you work safely? Are they actually going to run down the street to the shop that doesn’t care about protecting the salon environment and salon clients?

Wearing a mask is just like sanitizing is just like sanitizing your instruments. If you take the time to explain your mask to your clients, they will appreciate your safety precautions. It may also engender greater confidence in your technical knowledge and ability. And if a client wants to wear mask, let her. The overexposure Principle goes for clients, too, Reassure them that they run little risk of being overexposed. They’ll be relieved to see that you are safety-aware.

Use a disposable mask and throw them away after a full day’s work because they rapidly fill with small particles.

Mists are created when liquids are sprayed into the air. Mists share the properties of both dust and vapors: they can settle on a surface like dust or evaporate into vapor. Some solid material or slowly evaporating liquid residue may be left when the mist settles. Mist droplets are usually large enough to be captured by special dust/mist mask.

To work safely with mists or sprays, you should use both local ventilation and a properly fitted dust/mist mask.

A well-designed local exhaust system captures the spray before is spreads around your work area. This feature is especially critical when working with mists. Once mist lands on the work surface, it can leave behind potentially harmful residue. Use disposable towel to wipe away any residue.

Like dust, the size of the mist droplets is important. Aerosol can produce a much finer spray that is more difficult to control and that remains suspended in the air longer. Pump sprayers produce larger droplets that are less easily inhaled.

Ventilation Is the Key

This simple safety precaution can dramatically improve your salon’s air quality. However, even with strict adherence you still need to properly ventilate your salon.

To understand what adequate ventilation is, you must first understand what ventilation is not.

Open doors, windows, air conditioners, and fans provide air circulation to the salon, not ventilation. These methods just circulated the vapors around the room, forcing everyone to breathe them.

Ventilation systems also do not purify the air. Many so-called ventilation devices claim to eliminate odors in the salon, but that doesn’t mean they clean the air. Ventilated tables are an example of these devices that remove some of the salon air contaminants but are no sufficient to do the ventilation job required.

Ventilated tables rely on filters to remove vapors. These filters are usually lightweight and loosely filled with absorbent charcoal. Although the theory behind these filters is good, their effectiveness is limited to cleaning the air of large dust particles and some vapors.

The activated charcoal in the table works like a sponge to absorb chemical vapors. And, also like a sponge, the charcoal can quickly become saturated, and thus ineffective. Also, some vapor are not easily absorbed by activated charcoal.

For maximum effectiveness, the filters in ventilated tables must be replaced twice weekly, or after 20 hours of use. You can prolong a filter’s life by shaking out the dust, but some absorbed chemicals drop remain. Never reuse a filter. Properly maintained ventilated tables can help improve air quality, but they should not be relied upon to eliminate all airborne chemical hazards.

Ozone and Ion Generators

Ozone generators can also remove odors. They do not, however, change salon vapors to harmless carbon dioxide, air, and water, nor do they reduce dangerous chemicals to a harmless state. If they were able to perform such feats, every factory in the country would simply mount an ozone generator on its smoke stack and our nation’s air pollution problem would disappear. Ozone generators actually can reduce many chemicals to harmless gasses and water, but only under high temperatures or special laboratory contributions generally not found in the salon. Also, high concentrations ozone can be hazardous to your health and may cause eye, through and lung irritation.

HEPA filters and ion generators have been tried (and have failed to control product vapors. Neither device has any effect on chemical vapors because the vapors are small (much smaller than the tiniest dust particle) and cannot be filtered from the air. While these devices are helpful in controlling dust, they shouldn’t be used instead of dust mask.


Local Ventilation

While all these systems help removed vapors from the salon air, the best way to get rid of chemical vapors is local ventilation, which means capturing the vapors at their source and expelling them from the building.

The best local ventilation system uses an exhaust vent, hose, or tube that works like a vacuum to capture and expel chemical contaminants and purify the air would be very complex and cost thousands of dollars. Local exhaust is easier and less expensive. Contract a ventilation expert in your area (in your phone book under heating or air conditioning) and ask for an effective exhaust system to be designed for your salon. You’ll be surprised at how affordable a well-designed local ventilation system can be.

A properly designed local ventilation system will capture airborne contaminants at their source and remove them before they can enter your breathing zone or salon environment. The air flow pattern should pull vapors away from you, not past your face. Also, the system should be capable of capturing 50 to 100 feet per minute (fpm) of air. Such a system is extremely efficient and can even reduce your heating and air conditioning bill.

If your salon is not set up for outside ventilation, an activated charcoal filter system is a good substitute. Use a refillable canister containing at least five pounds of fresh charcoal and replace it monthly, unless your ventilation specialist recommends otherwise. Installing a pre-filter for dusts will increase the system’s efficiency. Clean the pre-filter daily for maximum results.

Use Common Sense

No ventilation system alone will keep your perfectly safe. You must still follow some commonsense precautions to protect your salon environment from vapors and other chemical contamination.

There are many aspects to safety working with chemical nail products. Protecting the salon environment and your personal breathing zone are just part of job safety. However, the most important lesson you can learn is the Overexposure Principle. This rule should guide your work habits and product choices. It is possible to use nail products without fear or apprehension, but chemical safety is your responsibility. It takes effort and attention. Always look for techniques and products that lower your exposure to dust, mists, and vapors, understanding these safety concepts and healthy working in the salon -  and a long and productive career in nail care.

Douglas Schoon, M.S., is executive director of Chemical Awareness Training Systems, a company specializing in chemical education. Schoon holds a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of California at Irvine.

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