Just how far would you go to fit the profile of a “beauty”? Countless women put their health on the line in pursuit of what the glossy magazines tells us is pretty. If you are using chemical salon treatments, you could be doing far more than changing your appearance; you could be damaging your health. And if you are working in these places, the risks are even higher. So much so that activists and grassroots movements are organizing to protect these workers from the dangers of the chemicals they handle each and every day.
According to a story reprinted at AlterNet and originally found in the labor rights blog of In These Times magazine, the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative has organized local workers, owners, and health activists to improve the conditions in the salons that supply Californian women with fake talons. Similar organizations are popping up all over, pressuring the industry for tighter regulations and better oversight.
Many of these salons employ a higher than average number of Asian workers, immigrants who may not have English as a first language and who may feel intimidated to speak up about the conditions they face. But, the conditions are severe, with toxic fumes from glues, solvents, and other unregulated chemicals spreading through the air—not intended for inhalation. Even nail polish was found to contain a toxic gasoline chemical.
These salons are often poorly ventilated and small. While some salon workers know the conditions are dangerous, few know how to protect themselves because the information simply isn’t provided to them. And, in some cases, the information and protection isn’t provided because it is yet unknown in an unregulated industry.
WE ACT, an environmental agency in New York, is working to get better regulation in the personal care industry. You can see a map of Northern Manhattan on their website, a map that indicates all of the shops and stores selling these (sometimes toxic) products. For their part, the organization is seeking legislation to regulate the personal care industry’s use of these chemicals.
So, what’s the problem with these products; why do we care? These chemical ingredients are often known or suspected carcinogens. This means they can increase the risk of cancer both for the people who work in the salons, and the people taking home the box of do-it-yourself hair color, nail products, or even make-up. Many of the effects of these ingredients are unknown, again, because the industry is so loosely regulated.
Arm yourself with knowledge about the risks of these products—if you use salon products, know what you are putting on your skin, hair, and nails, and know that the industry providing these products has no responsibility to keep you safe.