Do nail salon workers have a higher incidence of cancer?

Health Problems for Manicurists

Asian Health Services and the Northern California Cancer Center are currently working with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative on studies investigating the possible link between workers' health, the products they use and their workplace. Part of the study involves volunteers wearing air quality sensors to determine if a salon has adequate ventilation, while another part will compare nail technicians' health records to those of the general public's. Full results are expected in 2010.

Even if these studies determine that there is a link between these working conditions and cancer, it may be an uphill climb to enact change. Even though people are more concerned about what they put in and on their bodies, there's still little regulatory oversight in the beauty field. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics estimates that 89 percent of ingredients in personal care products have never been assessed for safety [source: Sole-Smith]. It's a particular problem in the United States: In the European Union, more than 1,100 chemicals have been banned for use in cosmetics because they may cause cancer or reproductive problems, but in the U.S., only nine such ingredients have been banned [source: Warbanski]. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review, which evaluates the safety of ingredients in the U.S., has no authority to actually ban a product.

And it may not be just one product, it may be how the chemicals in different products interact with each other in a nail salon. The Food and Drug Administration can't ban products based on the hazardous work environment they create; that duty falls to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which set and enforce the limits of how long employees can be exposed to certain chemicals [source: Sole-Smith].

The OSHA guidelines, however, were created with industrial settings in mind, not nail salons, where employees face low-dose but long-term exposure, which means there may not be proper ventilation in the salons [source: Sole-Smith]. Some of the settings still in use were created when women weren't a large presence in the workplace, but women now make up the majority of salon employees, so the standards may not issues such as reproductive health into consideration. Plus, women may be more at risk of cancerous tissue finding a home in their bodies. Women have a higher percentage of body fat than men do, and that body fat is an ideal resting place for fat-soluble chemicals that could cause cancer [source: Warbanski]. Breast tissue is particularly at risk for these chemicals, and breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Vietnamese women in the U.S. Is that due to the salons, or something else? That's what the agencies working with the California Healthy Nail Salons Collaborative hope to definitively determine.

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