On April 10, 2012, scientists from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) revealed their findings for a study they conducted last year. Out of 25 nail products tested, 12 products that claimed they were “three free” had in them one or more of the ingredients they claimed to be free of. The Nail Manufacturers Council (NMC) issued a statement not long after the conference saying that it “does not have reason at this time to dispute or disagree with the quantitative results of the laboratory tests, however, it strongly objects to the report’s lack of perspective and balance.”
The term “three free” refers to being free of toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalates (DBP), ingredients that, in high concentrations, can lead to side effects like headaches and nausea with the potential risk of cancer in even higher concentration and prolonged exposure. Nail companies began placing the “three free” label on polish bottles after reformulating their products to remove these ingredients in response to the “toxic trio” scare, which was coined by health groups to say that products that contained these three ingredients were not safe to use.
The “three free” label is now backfiring on those whose polish was tested in the study.
One of the manufacturers with product that was tested, Miss Professional, is taking the study seriously and issued a statement: “Miss Professional has endeavored at all times, to rigorously comply with all labeling and bottling laws in order to allow consumers and technicians to make informed decisions ... and is undertaking a thorough investigation of its manufacturing and labeling procedures to ensure that all rules and regulations are complied with. The public can be assured that at no time did Miss Professional knowingly or willingly mislabel its products with any intention to harm or deceive any person.”
The purpose of the study’s findings “highlight the need for DTSC’s proposed Safer Consumer Products Regulations which would catalyze efforts to remove unsafe ingredients from consumer goods” as explained by the DTSC. They look closely at toluene and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) levels within the 25 product samples they obtained for the study.
The Nail Manufacturers Council (NMC) refutes the study’s aim. Doug Schoon, chemist at Schoon Scientific and co-chair of the NMC, says that the levels of toluene in the polish samples within the study are already well under safe limits set by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Expert Panel of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR). Schoon stresses that “the most relevant health-related concerns in nail salons are not ingredients, but ventilation, sanitation, education, and work practices. NMC members have worked hard not only to re-formulate their products, but to reach out and educate nail technicians and consumers, in many languages, about best practices.”
Still, it is true that salon workers are being exposed to chemicals that have adverse health risks. One study done by the Boston Public Health Commission in collaboration with Brandeis University measured air quality in nail salons throughout Boston and found high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air within salons that did not have adequate ventilation.
So what does this mean for you?
This news reminds us that it is very important that your salon is well ventilated. Use an air conditioner, install ventilation units at each nail station that can suck in acrylic dust and fumes, and keep open doors and windows when possible to prevent you from inhaling harmful chemicals.
Also, don’t let news coverage and negative media attention scare you. You play an active role in maintaining the safety of your clients and your own safety. We have plenty of health and educational resources available to you on NAILS Magazine's website. The PBA also has reports and safety guides in many languages.
You can download the full DTSC report here. You can also download the factual statement by the Professional Beauty Association (PBA) and the NMC here.
If there is anything within the nail industry that concerns you that you would like us to cover, please don’t hesitate to contact me.