Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Identifying Hazards

Image of supervisor
Hazardous chemicals can enter your body in a variety of ways.


The two most common types of hazards in the nail salon are chemical and biological hazards. In this module you will be introduced to these hazards and how to reduce exposure to them.

Chemical Hazards

Products used in nail salons may contain chemicals that can affect worker health. Using these products can expose nail salon workers to chemicals. Workers may breathe in the harmful vapors, dusts, or mists; get the product on their skin or in their eyes; or swallow the product if it is accidentally transferred onto food or cigarettes.

Chemicals affect different people in different ways. Many factors play a part in whether you get sick from contact with chemicals, including

  • Toxicity - the kind of chemical you are exposed to,
  • Dose - how much of the chemical you contact,
  • Duration - how long the exposure lasted,
  • Frequency - how often you were exposed,
  • Route of entry - how it entered your body, and
  • Fitness - your physical and psychological health.

Chemicals are absorbed into the body through four primary routes of entry:

  • Inhalation - breathing in vapors, dusts, or mists from the products. Absorption occurs primarily in the lungs. Inhalation is the most common route of entry.
  • Contact - directly touching the chemical. Absorption occurs primarily through the skin and eyes.
  • Ingestion - swallowing the product if it gets on your uncovered food, drink, or cigarettes. Absorption occurs in the throat, stomach, and in many internal organs and systems.
  • Injection - getting punctured or cut by sharp objects like broken glass, needles, or knives. Absorption occurs at the point of contact.

Exposures can "add up," especially when many products are being used at the same time, when the products are used day after day, or when there is poor ventilation in the salon. You can get sick right away (acute affects), or you can get sick over time (chronic affects). If you use chemicals all day, every day, you are more likely to get sick than someone who uses the same chemicals once in a while.

Chemical Exposures in Nail Salons


Working in a nail salon exposes workers to many different chemicals each day.

These exposures can "add up," causing illness, especially when products are:

  • being used at the same time,
  • the products are used day after day, or
  • when there is poor ventilation in the salon.

Many nail salon workers also work long hours, which adds to the amount of time they may be exposed to chemicals. These types of exposures may make workers sick immediately (acute illnesses) or cause effects over a long period of time (chronic illnesses).

Hazardous Chemicals in Nail Salon Products

Pouring acetone on to a cotton pad.

Some potentially hazardous chemicals, the types of products they can be found in, and how they can affect your body include:

  • Acetone (nail polish remover): headaches; dizziness; and irritated eyes, skin, and throat.
  • Acetonitrile (fingernail glue remover): irritated nose and throat; breathing problems; nausea; vomiting; weakness; and exhaustion.
  • Butyl acetate (nail polish, nail polish remover): headaches and irritated eyes, skin, nose, mouth, and throat.
  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) (nail polish): nausea and irritated eyes, skin, nose, mouth, and throat. Long-term exposures to high concentrations may cause other serious effects.
  • Ethyl acetate (nail polish, nail polish remover, fingernail glue): irritated eyes, stomach, skin, nose, mouth, and throat; high concentrations can cause fainting.
  • Ethyl methacrylate (EMA) (artificial nail liquid): asthma; irritated eyes, skin, nose, and mouth; difficulty concentrating. Exposures while pregnant may affect your child.
  • Formaldehyde (nail polish, nail hardener): difficulty breathing, including coughing, asthma-like attacks, and wheezing; allergic reactions; irritated eyes, skin, and throat. Formaldehyde can cause cancer.
  • Isopropyl acetate (nail polish, nail polish remover): sleepiness, and irritated eyes, nose, and throat.
  • Methacrylic acid (nail primer): skin burns and irritated eyes, skin, nose, mouth, and throat. At higher concentrations, this chemical can cause difficulty breathing.
  • Methyl methacrylate (MMA) (artificial nail products, though banned for use in many states): asthma; irritated eyes, skin, nose, and mouth; difficulty concentrating; loss of smell.
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds (disinfectants): irritated skin and nose and may cause asthma.
  • Toluene (nail polish, fingernail glue): dry or cracked skin; headaches, dizziness, and numbness; irritated eyes, nose, throat, and lungs; damage to liver and kidneys; and harm to unborn children during pregnancy.

Report any health problems you think are from the products you use in the workplace to your employer and doctor. Employers must follow up on reports of health problems from workers.

Product Labels

At minimum, professional-use nail salon products containing hazardous chemicals must provide the following information:

  • the name and address of the product manufacturer or distributor
  • something that explains the type and use of the product, such as a name, description, or illustration
  • facts about the product, such as directions for safe use if a product could be unsafe if used incorrectly
  • all necessary warning and caution statements

Chemical Information

You can get valuable information on the characteristics and hazards of each chemical in nail salon products by checking the chemical's safety data sheet (SDS). Another excellent resource to find information on hazardous chemicals is the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Hazardous Chemicals.

Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

MSD sheets

OSHA requires product manufacturers to provide salon owners with SDSs for the products they buy that contain hazardous chemicals.

Employers must make these SDSs available to you. Your employer must also train you so you understand the chemical's potential hazards and how to use the products safely. In general, an SDS must provide the following information:

  • hazardous ingredients in the product
  • how you can be exposed to the ingredients
  • health and safety risks you face when using the product
  • steps for safely using and storing the product, including what to do in emergencies

All information is presented in a common 16-section format. This can help you compare the differences in hazards between products.

Be aware SDSs may not contain all the information needed to help protect you. For example, the manufacturer may state that you should wear "impervious gloves," but not specify the type.

For more information on SDSs and hazardous chemicals, please see OSHAcademy course 705 Hazard Communication Program.

Biological Hazards

Biological hazards include primarily bloodborne pathogens, bacteria, fungi, and other viruses.

Biological hazards include primarily bloodborne pathogens, bacteria, fungi, and other viruses.

Bloodborne Pathogens

Since it's possible to be exposed to human blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) while working in the nail salon, it's important to use safe work practices (see Module 2) to eliminate or reduce that exposure. The infectious bloodborne pathogens to which you may be exposed include:

  • hepatitis B (HVB),
  • hepatitis C (HVC), and
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV),

You can also be exposed to fungal infections of the nails and feet by touching a client’s infected skin or by using equipment that has not been cleaned.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. When can hazardous chemicals get into your body?

2. Which of the following chemical can cause headaches, dizziness, and irritated eyes, skin, and throat?

3. Disinfect foot basins and spas ONLY at the end of the day.

4. _____ is the best way to lower the level of chemicals in the salon.

5. Catch basins in a ventilated table should be cleaned at least _____.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.