Clients and nail techs alike are often concerned about strong salon smells, but the truth is, odor is not a good guide to whether a chemical is harmful or not. Some dangerous industrial substances cannot be smelled at all, and conversely, salon chemicals have good "warning properties," meaning that they have a strong odor far below the level at which they could do any immediate harm. In layman's terms, the odor smells toxic, but it's not.

Rather than focusing on odor, what salons actually need to reduce are vapors and dust. Vapors are released from acrylic liquids, the drying of nail lacquers, and from polish removers; dust is created by filing and shaping the nails. Continued and prolonged inhalation of the dust and vapors from salon products can be harmful over the long term, resulting in irritation, sensitization, or other symptoms. Proper ventilation can prevent this.

This isn't to say that odor isn't important. A ventilation system that controls vapors and dust, will also go a long way toward reducing odor as well - thus improving the quality of the client's experience and making the workplace more pleasant for the nail tech. Odorless products such as LED/UV-cured gels or low-odor acrylic, produce far less vapor, which why they have less odor; however, for the comfort of the nail tech and clients, ventilation is still necessary. 

Here are a few ways to make sure your salon air is as clean as possible:

Make sure your building’s ventilation uses the HVAC system: HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning. This system brings fresh air into a salon and pushes it from one room to another. It also helps remove mold, mildew, dust, and other toxins in the air.

Tear out your carpet: Carpets are an odor and dust traps and do not belong in a salon where chemicals are being used and released into the air.

Invest in an air purification system: If possible, get a system that vents to the outside in order to get all of the vapors and dust out of the salon. Venting to the outside may not be practical, however, and could blow all your warm and cold air outside. Don’t buy a system designed for the home or the office; you need a professional system that can handle what you’re putting into the air. A good ventilation system should contain a material that absorbs the vapors created by nail products.

Provide a breathing zone: The easiest and most efficient way to prevent vapors and dust from getting into the salon is to supply each nail desk with a source-capture system, which protects the “breathing zone” of the tech – the two-foot radius in front of the mouth. This allows vapors and dust to be captured immediately so that they don’t make it past the desk and absorbed into the salon. There are a number of different source-capture systems in the market. Industry scientist Doug Schoon recommends choosing a unit with a four-inch bed of absorbent material that the air has to pass through.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.