Working Healthy

Local Healthy Nail Ordinance Captures National Attention

San Francisco’s newly passed Healthy Nail Salon Recognition ordinance is intended to address occupational health hazards among the city’s more than 200 nail salons and 1,800 nail technicians. This ordinance establishes a voluntary recognition program for salons that use polishes and top and base coats that are “three-free.”


The New York Times recently reported on the greening of San Francisco’s nail salons. In October, the City of San Francisco passed the country’s first Healthy Nail Salon Recognition ordinance. In what its backers call “a groundbreaking first step toward addressing worker health,” the ordinance establishes a voluntary recognition program for salons that use nail polish (including base and top coat) that doesn’t contain DBP, formaldehyde, and toluene.

 The article sets out the case for the importance of such an ordinance, stating, “DBP, which reduces polish brittleness and cracking, is associated with the potential for reproduction harm and is especially hazardous for pregnant women ... The solvent toluene, found in nail glues, can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea, and is linked to short-term memory loss and other neurological issues. Formaldehyde, used as a hardener and preservative, is a known carcinogen and can cause asthma.”

 It goes on to explain that poor ventilation can exacerbate these chemicals’ ill effects, citing a study by Cora Roelofs, an occupational health researcher at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Her study, published in 2007, suggested a greater prevalence of respiratory and skin problems and headaches compared with the general population.

 The story also quoted Julia Liou, a public health administrator with Asian Health Services in Oakland and co-founder of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, a policy-advocacy group for salon safety, who expressed great concern given the fact that so many nail techs are women of reproductive age.”

 Dr. Thu Quach, an epidemiologist with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California who has studied Vietnamese nail workers, weighed in, saying that a complicating factor was that a lot of these workers have been exposed to chemical warfare, especially dioxins. “We don’t know if it makes them more vulnerable to chronic health problems,” she said.

 Industry chemist Doug Schoon told The New York Times that he considered this a “dead issue,” noting that major manufacturers have already eliminated the chemicals from their polishes.

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