When Christina Jahn found out she was pregnant three years ago, she started watching her diet more carefully; she stopped lifting heavy objects; she avoided secondhand smoke in restaurants. And she stopped getting her nails done.

“When you’re pregnant, you start looking at everything you do,” says Jahn, marketing director for Star Nail Products (Valencia, Calif.) and mother of 2-year-old Dominique. “I wasn’t worried about being exposed to the products,” she says. “I wasn’t worried more of a sanitation thing. I have tender skin around my nails and I would always get cuts in my skin from the wooden nail file when I got a fill,” she explains. “And you can’t disinfect wooden files.”

Once she became pregnant, Jahn says, she started noticing other salon practices that made her uncomfortable. “The worktable wasn’t very sanitary,” she says. “I know I was over-cautious at that point, but I was just grossed out!”

What finally caused Jahn to stop visiting the salon was when she was asked to scrub her nails with the communal nail brush in the salon’s bathroom? “That damp brush was really gross,” she says. “It was constantly keep wet in the bathroom, everyone used it, and I’m sure it was never disinfected.”

In addition to concerns about salon cleanliness, many pregnant clients also worry about poor ventilation and possible exposure to chemicals on the skin, Jahn says, nothing “pregnant women are concerned about everything.” Ju Lee Rolling, chief inspector/investigator for the Nevada State Board of Cosmetology, agrees, “When I visit salons form inspection, I often hear technicians say, So-and-so isn’t coming in until after she has her baby.”


Should clients worry about coming to your salon when they’re pregnant? Are the chemicals found in nail products harmful to a growing fetus? What about infections?

“In the general population, a pregnant woman has a 3%-4% chance of having a baby with a birth defect,” says Katryn Miller, M.Ed., program coordinator for the Pregnancy Environmental Hotline, which is associated with the National Birth Defects Center in Waltham, Mass. “We call that the background risk. What we try to determine is if exposure to certain substances would push a woman over that background risk percentage.

“Basic manicures cause no known increased risk,” she says “Acetone is an organic solvent, and the only data we have on that relates to very high exposure, such as pregnant women who sniff solvents [to get high]. Solvents are certainly something to be cautious about, but the risk to someone just getting a manicure is pretty small.”

As for exposure to the chemicals used in acrylic nail products, Miller notes that animal studies on methacrylates (a category of substance found in many acrylic nail products) have shown some harmful effects on offspring, but a laboratory rat exposed to high concentrations of a substance is a far cry from a pregnant women getting a twice-a-month fill. “We don’t know if any definite problems with pregnant women getting their nails done,” she says, nothing that an occasional salon visit probably poses no problem.

“There is very minimal exposure [toxic substances] for a pregnant woman getting her nails done,” says Karen Filkins, M.D., director of productive genetics at The Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa. “We really become concerned when there is a much higher level of exposure [than what you’ll get in a salon].”

Joan Cranmer, M.D., ATS, professor of pediatrics and toxicology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science concurs, but with reservations. “A pregnant woman should have no worries about having her nails done if the salon is clean, well-ventilated, and staff follows good sanitary procedures,” she says.


“We really look at the cumulative exposure a pregnant woman has – in all aspects of her life. A salon visit is just one tiny exposure,” Filkins says. But even though the risk involved in a salon visit a small, there are still steps that can be taken to protect clients, she adds. “Local skin infection, like staph infections, can occur when the skin is accidentally cut, the technician should apply antiseptic,” she adds, nothing that the risk of infection in this situation is no greater than for a pregnant woman peeling vegetables at the kitchen sink.

Wearing disposable latex gloves and observing stringent hand-washing procedures can all but eliminates the potential spread of hepatitis, says Crammer. “Hepatitis is spread through the feces,” she explains. “If a nail technician [with hepatitis] doesn’t wash her hands after using the restroom, hepatitis could possibly be passed on the client through small cuts on the fingers. Of course, this is a concern for all clients, not just those who are pregnant.”

Crammer agrees with Jahn that a wet nail brush, used by many customers, is a breeding ground for infection-causing germs. “I would recommend disinfection procedures for such brushes,” she says. Better yet, she suggest, use disposable materials for each client whenever possible.


When it comes to breathing in potentially harmful vapors, Filkins compares the salon customer’s short exposure to organic solvents to the limited exposure the clients would have with cleaning products in the home. “You just want to limit exposure and provide proper ventilation,” she says.

In fact, salon ventilation is probably the greatest concern among pregnant customers. And it should be says Miller. “If a pregnant woman has to sit and wait for a long time in a salon with poor ventilation, that might not be ideal,” she says. “You certainly don’t want her to be overwhelmed by vapors.”

To reassure clients, show off your ventilation system, suggests Rollins. “For example, many salons in Nevada are setting up separate exhaust system. The fans are separate from the central air and heating system, and they vent the air straight up and out of the room.”

If such a ventilation system is not available in your salon, an open door or window with a fan blowing away from you is an inexpensive alternative. Opening doors and windows during warm weather also helps cut down on odors that can cause nausea for clients who may already be suffering from morning sickness. Some experts also suggest using air purifiers with carbon-activated filters in conjunction with an exhaust system.

Sometimes the client themselves come up with answers to their concerns, says Debi Duemig, owner of Nails at Last in Brandon, Fla. “We have about 10 to 15 pregnant clients coming in regularly at any given time,” she says, nothing that concern about acrylics dust in common. “Many of them bring in their own dust and pollen mask,” she says.


Even with reassurance from the experts that it’s OK to visit favorite salon during pregnancy, pregnant clients often are extra cautious about exposure to potentially harmful substance “just in case.” Assuming you’re following the proper sanitation procedures, what else can you do to reassure a pregnant customer that her baby’s health isn’t being jeopardized while she’s in your salon? In addition to following the ventilation suggestion given earlier, showing your clients that you are taking the following precautions may give moms-to-be and other health-conscious clients extra peace of mind:

  • Don’t permit eating or drinking at your station.
  • Don’t allow uncovered coffee cups or other drinks to be left near the station where airborne debris can fall into the container.
  • Cap product bottles tightly when in use to prevent vapors from escaping.
  • Use small amounts of products in dappen dishes instead of working from large bottles.
  • Wipe up spills quickly to prevent excess vapors from escaping into the air.
  • Offer dust masks to clients who express concern about acrylics dust.
  • Use closed trash containers so that solvents and other chemicals don’t evaporate into the air.

“There are two ways to do things,” says Filkins, “the fastest possible way and the more careful way.” For example, when removing polish, you can soak the client’s fingers in a solution [thereby exposing the skin to the solvent] or you can carefully remove the polish one nail at a time after dipping a cotton ball in polish remover. It’s obvious which method takes more time, but if you explain that you are removing the polish this way to avoid any unnecessary chemical exposure, your pregnant clients will appreciate it, she says.

For many pregnant clients, being given the opportunity to sit farther away from the hub-bub of the salon where the majority of the chemicals are being used, will be appreciated suggest Rollins. “Or offer to come in when the salon is closed, perhaps on Mondays,” she says. “A client will appreciate being able to avoid the people, the heat, and the odors that are normal in a bust salon.”


Perhaps the best thing you can do to ease the worries of pregnant clients is to talk openly with them about sanitation, ventilation, and any other concerns they may have. While worries may be dancing through their heads, you may be the last to know. In fact, you may never know why a pregnant client suddenly stops coming in.

Rollins says, “It all comes down to service needs right now. For instance, they may be bothered by morning sickness and have a real problem with odors. Let them know that their appointment is their special time and that you’ll do everything you can to accommodate them.”

Rollins agrees with Jahn that when it comes to feeling uncomfortable in a salon environment, many clients will simply vote with their feet. “Ironically, clients don’t want to offend you by telling you why they’re uncomfortable because they like you! She adds. So be sure to create a trusting relationship with your clients so they’ll feel free to talk with you.

In the end, id it worth it to do all the little extra things that make pregnant clients feel safe and comfortable in your salon? You bet. After all, pregnancy lasts for just nine months. A good technician/client relationship can last for years.


If your nail technician who’s about to become a mom, you can certainly relate to the corners and questions your pregnant clients have. But what about your own health? Will doing nails hurt your baby?

According to Karen Filkins, M.D., director of reproductive genetics at the Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa., “Pregnant nail technicians are rightfully concerned about their exposure to salon chemicals which, in high concentrations, can be harmful to unborn babies.

For example, toluene, a solvent commonly used in nail polish, has been associated with mental retardation and physical deformities similar to those that can be caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. {It’s important to note, how-ever, that these deformities resulted from women sniffing toluene during pregnancy to get high; they were not caused by occupation exposure) “While extremely high exposure to toluene and other chemical can result in problems, very low-dose exposure to the same chemicals may have little or no effect on an unborn baby,” Filkins says.

It’s most important to keep in mind that approximately 15% of all established pregnancies naturally end in spontaneous abortion, Filkins says. This miscarriage rate is attribute to things that have nothing to do with your job. Of course, you will want to take proper precautions to limit your exposure to potentially toxic substances while you’re pregnant. But in general, the news is good: “When precautions were taken to limit exposure [to potentially toxic chemicals], the risks were not found to be different than the expected background risks such as age or family,” Filkins says.

What can you do to minimize your exposure? Plenty. In fact, many of the suggestions given in the main article will help you as well as your pregnant clients minimize your exposure to potentially harmful substances. Ensuring good ventilation, not eating or drinking at the workstation, keeping trash containers closed, cleaning up spills, and capping products immediately after use are all helpful suggestions. But there are additional precautions you can take to protect yourself:

  • Wear a protective gown and gloves while working.
  • Avoid physical contact with chemicals. Wash your hands immediately after any contact.
  • Consider adding a clamp on magnifying glass to your station. The glass provides a barrier between your face and the product on your clients’ nails and also allows you to see your work without getting too close to the product and unnecessarily breathing the vapors.
  • Take frequent breaks to get fresh air.
  • Pay special attention to symptoms such as nausea, headaches, or dizziness, especially if the symptoms seem to occur mainly during work hours.
  • Don’t smoke in your work area. (Don’t smoke at all.)
  • Remove protective clothing and wash your hands before eating or drinking.
  • Talk to your obstetrician if you have any concerns about overexposure.
  • If you are concerned about your level of exposure to chemicals you may want to contact a Teratogen Information Service in your area. It may also be helpful to provide your obstetrician with copies of the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the products you work with.


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