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Visit an eco-friendly nail salon

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Choosing an eco-friendly nail salon lets you get the pampering your crave without harming you, your manicurist, or the Earth. Salons with low- or no-chem product lines, those that use products in recycled packaging, and those that have made environmentally beneficial salon upgrades provide you with a green manicure, no matter what shade of polish you pick.

How to find an eco-friendly nail salon

To find an eco-friendly nail salon, you may have to do some legwork. As you ask around, keep in mind that the most important thing when it comes to greener nail care (and in protecting your health) is to minimize or eliminate your exposure to chemicals. That means you'll want to find a nail salon that uses no- or low-chemical product lines and is adequately ventilated over all other eco-concerns.

  • Inquire at salons in your area: Perhaps the easiest way to find a green nail salon is to call or visit some in your area and ask questions about what they're doing to reduce their environmental impact and protect the health of their employees and patrons. Questions to ask include:
    • Do you use low-chemical or chemical-free products? Conventional nail polish and nail care products often contain a cocktail of chemicals—such as acetone, toluene, ethyl acetate, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and formaldehyde—that can pollute the environment during production and threaten human health when inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Products that are labeled as free of these chemicals, and those that are labeled as water- or plant-based or low-VOC are safer for the environment and human health.
    • Is the salon adequately ventilated? Even with low-chemical products in use, a good nail salon should be adequately ventilated so that the place doesn't have that heady chemical smell when you walk in the door. Many of the chemicals used in nail care products pollute indoor air and cause health problems when inhaled.
    • Does the salon itself feature any eco-friendly attributes? Some nail salons have made improvements to the salon itself, such as installing energy-efficient lighting and energy-saving equipment, or using renewable bamboo flooring. Even better, ask if the salon is powered by solar or wind energy.
    • Do you recycle? In addition to ensuring that the salon you choose recycles their nail polish bottles and other supplies, ask if they use products housed in eco-friendly packaging, made from recycled-content materials.
    • Do you use natural cleaning products and laundry detergents? Methods used by your salon to clean laundry, instruments, and building structures should also be green. Ask if they use natural cleaning products, laundry detergents, and pest control techniques.
    • What sanitation measures do you follow? Health risks associated with nail salons that do not involve chemicals primarily involve bacterial infections that can be picked up easily if tools and equipment are not properly cleaned and sterilized. For example, in 2000, 110 patrons of a Santa Cruz, California, nail salon contracted infections from a pedicure bath with an uncleaned filter.[1] Make sure that the salon you choose properly sanitizes all equipment and follows strict sanitation policies.
    • Are you licensed? Eco-friendly or not, all nail salons should be licensed and follow established safety regulations overseen by state cosmetology boards.
  • Look online: GreenYour's list of eco-friendly hair salons is just a taste of what's available. You can also check out Innersense or Spa Index.
  • Seek multiple services at one eco-friendly location: You can also pop into your local eco-friendly hair salon or day spa and see if manicures and pedicures are on the menu of services there.

Find it! Eco-friendly nail salons

Check out one of GY's eco-friendly nail salons. And when you leave, enhance your eco-impact by taking home disposable tools used to file, polish, and buff. If you need an emery board, for example, keep it as a salon souvenir. This will prevent it from entering the waste stream and keep you from having to buy a new one at the drugstore.

Visiting an eco-friendly nail salon helps you go green because...

  • They eschew the use of products containing chemicals like toluene, ethyl acetate, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and formaldehyde that pose various health and environmental risks. These chemicals are often replaced with low-risk natural plant- and water-based elements.
  • They abide by stringent sanitation and safety regulations to prevent salon-borne infections.
  • They often follow other green business ethics and fair labor practices.

The US nail salon industry is a powerful one, bringing in $6.53 billion in 2003, a 67 percent increase from 1993. The number of nail salons nationwide has doubled over the past decade; there are 3,800 nail salons in New York State alone.[2]

The nail polishes, removers, and other products used on salons contain petroleum-derived components. Petroleum is a non-sustainable resource, the extraction and production of which has caused major environmental damage to soil, surface and ground waters, and local ecosystems, and contributes to global warming. Petroleum-based products support the hazards of the petroleum industry, which include about 2.6 million gallons of oil spilled every month during transportation and about 71 million pounds of toxins released into the air and water during refinement.

These petrochemicals can cause health and environmental damage. The major culprits are:

  • acetone: A solvent used in nail polish, nail polish removers, and astringents that can cause nausea, ear, nose, and throat irritation, and dermatitis. Can contaminate waterways in production and pollutes indoor air: its presence tends to be higher inside homes than outside due to the use of chemical products.
  • benzophenone-1: Can lead to hormone disruption.
  • benzoyl peroxide: Inhalation of this plastics additive can irritate mucous membranes and has been shown to promote cancer in animal studies.
  • dibutyl phthalate (DBP): A specific phthalate, common in nail polish to prevent chipping and add shine, that studies have shown can interfere with normal hormone balance, can cause severe birth defects, and is a suspected carcinogen. Phthalates have also been shown to cause liver, kidney, lung, and reproductive system damage, and the production of phthalates pollutes the air, water, and soil.
  • ethyl lactate or ethyl alcohol: Can lead to neurological damage and irritate the eyes and mucous membranes.
  • formaldehyde: Used as a preservative in some nail polishes, formaldehyde is one of the world's most hazardous compounds to both ecosystems and health, according to the Environmental Defense Scorecard, and is a known carcinogen.
  • toluene: Used to give nail polish its fluid quality and improve drying time, this solvent is absorbed easily by the body through the skin or inhalation, affecting the nervous system and causing depression, headaches, nausea, fatigue, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Toluene has also been found to be toxic to the kidneys and liver and possibly a reproductive disruptor. Toluene is petroleum-based, so its production supports the pollution and greenhouse gases associated with petroleum production.
  • xylene: Like toluene, this chemical solvent is petroleum-derived, toxic, and may be linked to cancer.

Nail salons and employee health

According to a 2007 study released by Women's Voices For the Earth, 95 percent of nail salon workers are female and of childbearing age; a large percentage of these women speak English as a second language—approximately 37 percent are Vietnamese-American—and may not be able to comprehend warnings and information regarding the potential toxicity of the products they work with on a daily basis.[3] A 2004 survey conducted by New York City's Committee For Occupational Safety and Health and a Korean workers' advocacy group revealed that health issues among salon workers are rampant: 57 percent reported experiencing allergies, 37 percent complained of skin problems and eye irritation, and 18 percent suffered from asthma.[4] It's believed that these complications arose from inadequate ventilation in salons. In New Jersey, one manicurist was set ablaze after chemical fumes were ignited in her salon.

As part of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Nail Salon Project, a guide titled Protecting the Health of Nail Salon Workers has been published in Korean, Vietnamese, and English to help nail salon workers identify harmful chemicals in products and minimize their exposure to them. Additionally, in June 2007 the EPA granted two Seattle-area nonprofit groups, the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice and the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle, $100,000 to launch the "Toxic Beauty" project—an effort to green local nail salons that are primarily Vietnamese-owned and operated.

Other eco-issues: Paraffin wax

Paraffin treatments, a staple in most nail salons, relies on—you guessed it—paraffin wax, which is also used in candles, fruit and vegetable waxes, and other goods. It's a byproduct of petroleum, a non-sustainable resource. Pumping and refining petroleum has had major detrimental impacts on soil, ground water, surface water, and ecosystems in the US and around the world. Petroleum refineries release toxic, hazardous air pollutants, such as BTEX compounds and sulfur dioxide.

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