Studies done by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) consistently show allergens are present in the air of nail salons. One Health Hazard Evaluation conducted at a nail salon in Norman, Okla., for example, showed acetone, n-butyl acetate, ethyl acetate, ethyl methacrylate, and toluene were present in the air, with a concentration of up to 5.3%. No nail tech in that salon complained of respiratory problems, and the concentration of chemicals was well below OSHA’s Permissible Exposure Limits. However, according to the CDC, “A small but growing number of studies have examined possible links between nail technicians’ work and health outcomes, such as respiratory, neurological, and musculoskeletal effects …” For techs who are sensitive, even low concentrations of chemicals could cause a respiratory reaction.


Symptoms of a respiratory reaction to nail chemicals and debris include coughing, clearing the throat, and shallow or restricted breathing. This restriction may cause headaches, exhaustion, and reduced energy.


Nail products — polish, remover, glue, liquid, powder, and gel — contain ingredients known to trigger allergic reactions. However, in the same way many people never react to peanuts or poison ivy, so, too, many people never respond to the allergens in the salon. However, when a person does have an allergic reaction to salon products, the reaction could present in one of two ways: externally (on the skin) or internally. When the body responds internally, the nose and throat may become irritated or respiratory reactions can develop, such as asthma. Allergic reactions was one reason MMA was removed from the market, but other salon products can trigger the same response. Reduce the risk of developing a respiratory response by limiting exposure to the vapors and dust in the salon.


Reduce exposure and you reduce your risk. For vapors, keep liquids covered. For example, use a covered dispenser for acrylic liquid instead of an open dappen dish. Place a container over the top of the dispenser when it’s not in use. Make sure all garbage receptacles are covered. This is the law in many states, and it makes sense. Without a cover, cotton soaked with polish remover and disposable towels soaked with enhancement liquid release vapors into the air all day. Remove the garbage from the salon every night. Finally, wear an N-95 rated mask and invest in a table that sucks the dust and vapors away from your breathing zone and into a thick carbon filter. Open windows and doors as often as possible to bring fresh air into the salon.

Medical Interventions

If you identify with any of the symptoms of respiratory restriction, consult a doctor immediately. The doctor will determine if the trouble stems from a condition such as asthma, an infection, or possibly a larger health issue. If your respiratory reaction is from exposure to salon products, you may be able to reduce your response through the suggestions above and by working with your doctor to regulate the body’s reaction.

Five Ways to Reduce Exposure

1. Use a covered dispenser instead of an open dish when you use any liquid in the salon.

2. A lid on trash receptacles reduces chemical vapors from escaping into the air.

3. Instead of throwing used cotton directly into the trash, seal the vapors in a Ziploc bag and throw the bag out with the trash at night.

4. Protect yourself and your clients by investing in a desk that sucks fumes and filings away from the breathing zone.

5. Protect yourself by wearing an N-95 rated mask when you apply or file during enhancement services.

Note: This article is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.

You can read the study on the salon in Norman, Okla., at You can read a CDC article on health risks in the salon at

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