The ongoing exposure of chemicals used in nail salons may be associated with an array of serious adverse reactions that has sickened many cosmetic workers and, in some cases, their children and unborn children, according to a breaking report in The New York Times.
Parker Waichman is concerned with the significant lack of regulation in the cosmetics industry and the magnitude of chemicals with which cosmetics workers are exposed. Lawyers at our firm who specialize in cosmetics industry lawsuits are offering free legal consultations to individuals and their loved ones who have been potentially injured due to their work in this industry.
Nail Worker Injuries
In interviews with more than 125 nail salon workers, The New York Times concluded that airway issues were commonplace, as well as constant nosebleeds, aching throats, and persistent coughs. In one case, a woman developed the inflammatory disease, sarcoidosis, in her lungs, which, upon scanning, appeared to be covered in sand and small scars.
Nail salon workers have reported an array of disorders including:
- Skin disorders
- Skin discoloration that turns skin brown due to a coloring additive in some cosmetics
- Fading and elimination of fingerprints, and serious pain in the fingertips, due to work with files, solvents, and emollients
- Black, painful skin postules and fungal infection
In one case, a manicurist who reportedly suffered at least three miscarriages was advised by her physician to change jobs and that the chemicals to which she was exposed at work may harm the lungs and liver and may lead to cancer. Another nail salon worker discussed being diagnosed with thyroid and respiratory issues, as well as breast cancer, The New York Times wrote.
In other cases, a former Queens nail salon worker, 39, told The New York Times about a miscarriage she suffered while at work. A worker at the same salon, 30, gave birth to a son-now three years old-who suffers from communication and ambulatory issues. Another manicurist at the same shop suffered five miscarriages; the most recent in 2014. The report discusses other cases nationwide involving children who are born as so-called “special” or “slow,” as well as cases of miscarriages, cancers, painful skin issues, and continuing coughs. In fact, reports of similar injuries and issues are ubiquitous enough that more experienced, older manicurists warn colleagues who are of child-bearing age to avoid the business of manicuring that involves various solvents, glues, and nail polishes and hardeners, to name just a few.
One doctor in Queens, New York, told The New York Times that he has seen a lot of similar conditions in nail salon workers. “They come in usually with breathing problems, some symptoms similar to an allergy, and also asthma symptoms-they cannot breathe,” the doctor noted. “Judging from the symptoms with these women, it seems that they are either smokers, secondhand smokers or asthma patients, but they are none of the above. They work for nail salons.”
Research Ties Nail Product Chemicals to Significant Injuries
Increasing medical research reveals ties between chemicals that are used in beauty products and serious health reactions. For example, the chemicals that make polishes pretty, chip-resistant, and pliable, are associated with significant adverse reactions, according to The New York Times. For manicurists who handle these chemicals on a routine basis, and who are inhaling fumes all day, the impact may be significant. Respiratory and skin ailments in this industry are well known; however, other-very serious-medical issues-may present given that some of the chemicals found in nail manicuring products include known carcinogens and have been tied to dangers to reproductive health, including abnormal fetal development and miscarriages.
Studies reveal that cosmetologists, cosmetic workers that include manicurists hairdressers, and make-up artists, have suffered from increased death rates associated with Hodgkin’s disease, low birth-weight babies, and cancer, specifically, multiple myeloma, according to The New York Times.
With increasing health complaints being received by mostly Vietnamese manicurists in Oakland, California, Asian Health Services conducted an investigation about 10 years ago. “It was like, ‘Oh wow, what’s happening in this community?'” said Julia Liou, the health center’s director of program planning and development and co-founder of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative. “We are seeing this epidemic of people who are sick.” While a push for restrictions on the chemicals used in nail salon was formed, the cosmetics industry blocked the ban.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine included over 500 Colorado manicurists revealed that approximately 20 percent suffered from a cough that persisted during the majority of days and nights. The study also revealed that people who worked with artificial nails suffered a three-fold likelihood of developing asthma on the job, according to The New York Times. Yet another study revealed that manicurists suffered from an increased risk of gestational diabetes and for giving birth to below normal sized babies.
Some states and municipalities recommend that workers don protective wear, such as gloves; however, salon owners often discourage this. And, while some polish companies have touted removal of some dangerous chemicals from their polishes, random testing conducted by government agencies revealed that this was not so.
Research has not been robust and just a small number of studies have looked at nail salon workers. More information is needed to understand the depth of potential damage caused by the hazardous chemicals used in manicure products and how these chemicals will affect and accumulate over time.
Worse, the federal law regulating cosmetics safety has no mandate requiring firms to share safety information with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Although the law prohibits ingredients that may cause harm to users, there is no evaluation provision for the agency to evaluate the chemicals’ effects prior to releasing them to market. Meanwhile, industry lobbyists have fought for more stringent monitoring mandates as the portion of the regulation of chemicals use in nail products under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 contains less than 600 words.
“We know that a lot of the chemicals are very dangerous,” said David Michaels, the assistant labor secretary who heads the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which oversees workplace safety. “We don’t need to see the effect in nail salon workers to know that they are dangerous to the workers,” Mr. Michaels told The New York Times.
The FDA indicates, regarding the dearth of regulations on cosmetic product ingredients under current law that, “Cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA premarket approval, with the exception of color additives.” Also, according to the agency, “Neither the law nor FDA regulations require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients…. The law also does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information with FDA,” The New York Times reported.
The “Toxic Trio” of Dangerous Chemicals Used in Nail Products
Of the 20 most widely used nail product ingredients that are listed as leading to adverse health reactions by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety brochure, 17 have negative reactions to the respiratory tract. Overexposure to any of the chemicals will lead to burning throat or lungs, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath, The New York Times noted.
Three noteworthy chemicals used in nail products-dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde-are known, according to The New York Times, as the “toxic trio.”
- Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) makes products, such as nail polish, pliable. DBP is listed as a reproductive toxicant in Australia and requires labels such as: “may cause harm to the unborn child” and “possible risk of impaired fertility.” DBP will be banned from cosmetics there next month and is one of the more than 1,300 chemicals banned from use in cosmetics in the European Union. In the United States, less than one-dozen chemicals are banned and there are no restrictions on DBP.
- Toluene is a solvent that enables nail polish to apply smoothly. An EPA fact sheet indicates that toluene may impair cognitive and kidney function and that, repeated exposure during pregnancy, may “adversely affect the developing fetus.”
- Formaldehyde, a known embalming chemical, is also used to harden nail products. In 2011, the National Toxicology Program, an arm of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, labeled formaldehyde a human carcinogen. Formaldehyde will be banned from cosmetics in the European Union by 2016.
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