Air quality in salons where artificial nail services are provided has long been a major source of concern to salon owners, nail technicians and clients alike. But it has only been more recently that this concern has extended to state cosmetology boards, many of which are taking a closer look at the problem and what they can do about it.

One of the first to take definitive action is the Colorado State Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists, which boldly took a major step forward by researching the question of air quality in salons, and by passing “Rule 11-A,” their requirement for “adequate ventilation.” The Board then took the added step of establishing specific guidelines ‘or salons to follow as a means of complying with Rule 11-A.

As a pioneer in this area, the Colorado Board and its guidelines are now the subject of close scrutiny by other state boards, as well as by manufacturers and distributors of air purification systems and by the nail industry itself.

Before the debate progresses much further, it may help to take time to review the background of the Colorado recommendations, which read as follows:

  1. The purification system must be of a size to adequately circulate the air in direct proportion to the number of cubic feet of the specific work area where artificial nails are to be applied only.
  2. An air exchange rate of no less than six times an hour is required (400 CFM per 500 square feet with an eight-foot ceiling; 500 CFM per 500 square feet with a 10-foot ceiling).
  3. The filtering system must have a minimum efficiency rate per pass of no less than 95 percent by ASHRAE standards (52-76), or be adequate to remove particulates as small as 0.3 microns by DOP standards.
  4. A charcoal filter compatible with the size of the unit must be used in conjunction with the dry media or electrostatic system.
  5. All units should be altitude adjusted by the manufacturer or distributor if possible.
  6. Salon owners must have literature regarding their system available for review by inspector or Board representative.

The Colorado Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists meets once a month for the purpose of establishing policies. Under the direction of Cathy Wells, program administrator, the Board conducts investigations, makes decisions and institutes changes in policies.

In this case, the Board was concerned with chemicals used in the manicuring profession. Toxicity of some products was in question because of studies indicating potential problems with the respiratory tract, nasal tract and sensitization to allergies. Input was provided by the union, salon owners’ association and members of the Board itself. Based on this input, it was the Board’s feeling that something was needed to carry off fumes resulting from application of artificial nails.

Additionally, the need for an air purification regulation was prompted by numerous consumer complaints regarding the fumes in salons in general, and also from inspectors, their observations and comments regarding fumes. “This led us to believe that something needed to be done,” Cathy explained.

Thus, Rule 11-A was established, stating: All establishments licensed by this board shall be sufficiently ventilated by artificial means in accordance with the uniform building code. Those salons providing artificial nail services shall be required to provide an electrostatic air purifier or an equivalent system, to carry off fumes.

However, the Board felt that the rule was not specific enough and salon owners were uncomfortable with general terms such as “sufficiently.” More specific guidelines were necessary.

At a meeting on March 3, 1986, the Colorado Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists directed its staff to develop and recommend specifications regarding air purifiers. The Board devoted four months of intensive study to the project, according to Cathy. Initially, the Board contacted seven companies that manufacture and distribute air purification systems; by the end of the project, more than 20 different sources had been consulted.

In addition, the Board coordinated specific research projects. “Research has been completed for us by the engineer of one manufacturer regarding the most efficient absorbents to remove vapors,” Cathy stated in a memo to Board members. “Three other engineers have assisted in the development of the recommended specifications.” Three research projects on the subject were also reviewed.

Next, the proposed guidelines were published to give everyone an opportunity to review them. As required, public hearings were held at which interested parties could testify, either in writing or orally, for or against the guidelines.

No oral testimony was given, and only one major company responded by recommending that the rule be expanded to be more specific. Overall, there was no major opposition to the rule, Cathy reported.

The proposed guidelines were approved on May 5, and enforcement of the rule became effective on August 1, 1986.

To enforce Rule 11-A, the Colorado Board is planning inspections of the state’s 4000 salons. (An estimated 25 percent of these salons conduct nail services.)

Salons that have not installed adequate air purification systems will receive a notice of non-compliance, with 30 days in which to correct the situation. Hearings will be granted by the Board before a salon’s license is suspended or revoked.

Since the guidelines were approved, reactions have been varied, according to Cathy. Salon owners see installation of an air purification system as an expense, and they are concerned about this aspect of Rule 11-A. But the other facet, Cathy indicated, is the manicurist and salon owner who feel the rule will be truly helpful.

Some manufacturers of air purification systems applaud the guidelines, while others are challenging the specifications and the research they are based upon. (Already, one error was made and corrected: A filtering system to remove particulates as small as 0.2 microns was changed to 0.3 microns because of the capability of most existing equipment.)

The Colorado guidelines, then, are still under scrutiny by the nail industry and by salons in general. The Colorado Board is considering extending the guidelines to any and all salons because of concern over other products, such as permanent wave solutions and other hair treatment chemicals.

Meanwhile, state boards of Arizona, California, Michigan and Oregon are considering similar guidelines and other states are beginning to look into the effects of artificial nail products and air purification systems.

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