The ocean of air in which we live, work, and breathe is full of tiny dust particles and vapors. Even in clean air, a typical breath you take in contains millions of small particles and a variety of vapors. Our lungs possess many impressive defenses that usually prevent these particles and vapors from harming us, but when large amounts of certain contaminants are in the air, they by-pass those defenses. As a result, health problems can arise.
Keeping the salon air clean comes from good housekeeping and providing plenty of fresh air. You can further protect yourself by maintaining good general health and wearing an effective dust mask. Still, despite taking every precaution, some individuals seem to develop a sensitivity to air contaminants, making it difficult for them to work around vapors and dust by adopting a few sound occupational health practices
What Are Vapors and Dust?
When a liquid evaporates into air, it doesn’t just disappear into nothing: it is converted into a vapor, which consists of airborne molecules too small to see. The tendency for a liquid to evaporate (What is called its volatility) is one factor that determines how much vapor it will put into the air. Liquids such as cooking oils and lubricating oils are not very volatile, so they produce little vapor. Solvents and chemicals used in nail salons (such as toluene, xylene, acetone, and ammonia) are more volatile and will readily vaporize when left in an open container.
Sometimes vapors are readily apparent because of a distinctive odor. But just because you can’t smell anything doesn’t mean there are no vapors present. The human nose is not equally sensitive to all chemicals, and some vapors deaden your sense of smell, meaning you won’t smell them after just a few minutes of exposure.
The vapors from chemicals used in the salon aren’t lethal; but some of them can inflame the delicate membranes of the eyes, nose, and lungs. This irritation will cause a burning or itching sensation, which is a warning sign that you need to reduce your exposure to that product before any serious damage is done. Headaches and nausea are other warning signs to reduce your exposure to vapors.
Dust, another common salon nuisance, is also invisible. Dust is made up of tiny solid particles that are always present in the air. Dust can come from our skin, clothes, spray products, insects, molds, and powders, just to name a few sources. Most dust is not harmful in normal concentrations, but a high enough concentration of any type of dust in the air can cause coughing, membrane irritation, and, in extreme cases, asthma, and lung disease.
Acrylic powder dust is safe in low concentrations in the air, but prolonged exposure to high concentrations of it can cause eye irritation, sneezing, coughing, and tightness or pain in the chest. These warning signs should be taken seriously-they are your warning to clean up the air.
You can control vapors and dust in the salon by observing a few sound principles of occupational hygiene. First, and most important, make sure your work area is well-ventilated; that is, that your ventilation system adequately removes contaminated air and replaces it with fresh air. You should develop good work habits, including tightly covering product containers when they are not in use, using as small a quantity of a chemical as possible, and keeping your work area clean. If you spill product, promptly wipe it up and dispose of product-soaked paper towels in sealed container. (Tossing them into an open trash can allows the chemicals to evaporate from the paper towels, contaminating the air.)
Some nail Technicians like to wear dust masks, while others say it scares clients. Personally, I think wearing a mask is a good habit, but be aware that a dust mask doesn’t prevent you from inhaling vapors; for that you need a special mask such as a charcoal-impregnated mask.
When selecting a mask, look for comfort, a tight fit around the edges, and filtration efficiency. A flimsy painter’s-type mask that fits loosely might only reduce your dust exposure by 10% or less. A thicker mask, with two elastic straps, an adjustable contour or soft nose seal, and a good facial fit, can trap almost all the dust. Some masks even have a small exhalation flap so the seal around the face is not disturbed when you breathe out forcefully. Many people find that it takes some time to get used to wearing a good mask, but the patience and effort spent adapting to it are worthwhile.
In addition to controlling airborne vapors and dusts and wearing a mask, you can protect yourself in other ways. The healthier you are in the first place, the better your resistance is to developing health problems from air contaminants. People who smoke heavily seem more prone to develop occupational illnesses from dust, for example, so you should cut down on your smoking or stop completely. Your lungs also benefit from regular exercise and living in a home that is as free of dust as possible. A healthful diet and plenty of rest are also important for your health. Finally, awareness of health and lifestyle issues, in addition to air quality, are signs of a professional attitude, as well as the means for preventing harm from vapors and dust.
- Minimize Your Exposure to Vapors and Dust.
- Have adequate air flow around the workstation.
- Dispose of soiled tissues and cotton in a sealed container.
- Tightly cap solvents and powders when you’re not using them.
- Clean all work surfaces between clients.
- Wear a quality mask with a good fit.
- Exercise good personal hygiene.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.