Although a recently published study reports that female cosmetologists who work full-time and regularly use chemicals face up to twice the risk of miscarriage as other women, researcher Esther John, Ph.D., cautions nail technicians not to take the information out of context.
John, who co-authored the study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health with professors David Savitz and Carl Shy says the study results are based on a survey of licensed North Carolina cosmetologists. “Few of the cosmetologists we surveyed reported doing nail services. Most of them were hairdressers. So this is a study of hairdressers, who work with different kinds of chemicals and products than nail technicians do,” says John, now an assistant professor at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. “So I don’t think that what we found directly applies to people who do nails.”
In the study, John reports, “We found associations between spontaneous abortion [miscarriage] and the number of hours worked per day in cosmetology, the number of chemical services performed per week, the use of formaldehyde-based disinfectants, and work in salons where nail sculpturing was performed by other employees.”
However, she stresses, “This is the first study that’s ever looked at cosmetologists and their risk of miscarriage in detail. We found associations [between salon work and miscarriage], hut they are preliminary results that need to be further explored.
Just because you have one study finding results, it doesn’t mean there is something going on. It could just be chance. We need more studies to corroborate what we found.”
Dr. Karen Filkins, director of reproductive genetics at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa., agrees: “This study is one more small piece of information that makes us feel it’s worth taking precautions when working with solvents. I don’t think the study proves an association [between doing nails and a higher risk for miscarriage], but it does show that nail technicians should use common sense and take precautions.”
John found that women who worked in salons where nail sculpturing, among other services, was performed wore twice as likely to miscarry than the average woman. Both she and Filkins say more research needs to be done before the chemicals used in nail services can be linked to a higher risk for miscarriage.
Says Filkins, “It isn’t as if the nail people had a five-fold or 10-fold increase in their rate of miscarriage. A two-fold increase doesn’t prove an association — it shows that there might be a potential chance for increased risk.”
Both Filkins and John recommend nail technicians view the study as a reminder to protect themselves against overexposure to chemicals by ensuring their salon has good ventilation, by wearing gloves when performing services, and not eating, drinking, or smoking at their workstation.
Concludes Filkins: “Nail technicians should look at themselves in the same way that laboratory workers see themselves. They shouldn’t look at their job as less significant or as not requiring the same type of protective measures. What they’re doing is just as important, and the risks they take can be just as high as a laboratory worker’s, so they should take the same precautions. Laboratory workers don’t quit their jobs during pregnancy; they just modify their work habits and take extra precautions.