Health risks lurking at the nail salon (part 2 of 2) While a day at the salon might be relaxing, you could be putting your fingers, toes and more at risk

August 11, 2014

Close-up of a woman having her manicure doneMolly Dannenmaier, of Galveston, TX, visits a local salon every three weeks. She regularly gets a pedicure and occasionally treats herself to a manicure – but the pedicure is a staple. It wasn’t until both she and a friend developed toe infections that she considered the health risks. “[My friend] got a terrible infection, and in fact had to have surgery to have her toe nail removed,” Dannenmaier recalls. “It’s never going to grow back.”
UV ray exposure
You’re admiring your freshly painted fingers as you sit down at the drying station – ready to settle in and wait for the polish to harden. But have you considered what that lamp is doing to dry your nail polish? It turns out these light stations emit UVA rays – the same rays emitted by the sun and tanning beds, which have skin-damaging effects and can lead to cancer.
Jenny Kim,​ a dermatology professor at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Medicine and practicing dermatologist, cites a 2009 report by a dermatologist with two patients who had skin cancer on their hands. Because the women frequented nail salons, the physician attributed the cancer to the salon’s drying devices. However, Kim cautions that while it’s possible the dryers were a contributing factor, there’s no evidence the cancer was a direct effect.
In a study published in JAMA Dermatology this year, researchers tested 17 different UV lamps and found that the risk of cancer is very small from exposure. However, the study revealed that significant DNA damage to the skin could occur in eight to 14 visits over a time period between 24 and 42 months. Kim attributes this to the UVA from the lamps. “We know UVA exposure is harmful and that that could lead to photo aging and eventually skin cancer,” Kim says.
She adds that your skin pigmentation affects your risk level – those who have fair skin have a higher risk of damage than those who are dark-skinned.
To put the risks in perspective, consider that while nail drying lamps emit UVA rays, tanning beds will cause more damage. “The light that is coming out to give one a tan at a tanning salon has been shown to be very dangerous, and so I don’t think it is fair for the salon owners to say that is comparable,” Kim says.
Michael Greenberg, ​a dermatologist at the Illinois Dermatology Institute, says even if the effects are small, people need to​ weigh the risks with the benefits. “We’re so obsessed with all these beauty processes, and there are always side effects to everything we do. Any UVA exposure is still UVA,” Greenberg says.
What you can do: While people should not be too alarmed by the UVA exposure of drying lamps, Kim says, it is important to recognize damage is occurring with any exposure. She, as well as the American Academy of Dermatology, encourages salon-goers to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays on the hands to minimize damage. ​
Respiratory irritation
When you walk into the nail salon, it’s difficult not to notice the strong smell of acetone and other chemicals. But have you ever wondered exactly what you’re breathing in and how it could affect your body?
“Basically, they are organic solvents. And organic solvents, in general, have a high potential for two things: carcinogenesis-causing cancer, and in sensitive people, irritation of the airways,” says Norman Edelman​, a pulmonologist, senior medical consultant with the American Lung Association and ​professor at​ Stoneybrook University’s School of Medicine.
More research is necessary to determine if breathing these chemicals causes cancer, Edelman adds. “What we know for sure is that these things will trigger asthma,” he says. Those​ who inhale the chemicals daily are at the greatest risk of health complications. If they suffer from asthma, it will likely get worse, Edelman says.
What you can do: Nail salons should avoid using products with the “toxic trio:” toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. ​ Staff should also consider using a respirator when working, as surgical masks only protect from loose particles and make no difference when inhaling toxic fumes.
If you don’t work in a salon and merely visit for appointments, such chemicals likely won’t be detrimental to your health. However, if you have asthma or are particularly sensitive to irritants, experts recommend avoiding salons with poor ventilation.