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Chemical Hazards



Products used in nail salons may have chemicals in them that can harm your health.

Chemicals can get into your body if you:

  • breathe in vapors, dusts, or mists from the products
  • get the product on your skin or in your eyes
  • swallow the product if it gets on your uncovered food, drink, or cigarettes

Chemicals affect different people in different ways. How a chemical affects you also depends on how much of it you are exposed to. You can get sick right away, or you can get sick over time.

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. 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.

Hazardous Chemicals Found in Nail Salon Products


Nail products, such as polishes, strengtheners, removers, and artificial nail liquids, can contain many chemicals. Some of these chemicals are more harmful than others.

Over time, with repeated use or exposure to high concentrations, these chemicals could damage your body or cause an allergic reaction. Every person is different and not everyone who breathes in these chemicals or gets them on their skin will experience these effects now or in the future.

Hazardous Chemicals Found in Nail Salon Products (Continued)

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 distributer
  • 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 product information on packaging, or in printed materials delivered with the product such as its material safety data sheet (MSD).

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 chemicals’ potential hazards and how to use the products safely. In general, an MSDS 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 on hazardous chemicals, please see OSHAcademy course 705 Hazard Communication Program.

Steps to Take to Protect Your Health

Choose Safer Products

  • Whenever possible, use products with the least hazardous chemicals in them.
    • 3-free: Some products now claim to be made without the “toxic trio” (toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate). These products are called “3-free” products.
    • Acid free: Some primers claim to be made without chemicals like methacrylic acid. These are labeled “acid free.”

Always read product labels and MSDSs and follow manufacturers’ instructions when using all nail salon products, including those labeled as “free” of hazardous chemicals.

A recent study claims some kinds of toxin-free police might contain dangerous chemicals. View a recent ABC News report discussing nail polish toxins.

Ventilate the Room

Ventilation is the best way to lower the level of chemicals in the salon. These steps can really help improve your health:

  • Open doors and windows when possible to let in fresh air. If the salon has a ceiling vent, it should be turned on and working.
  • Always keep the nail salon’s exhaust system on.
  • If your salon does not have an exhaust system, always keep the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system on during work hours. The HVAC thermostat fan switch should always be in the “on” position (not “auto”) so that it runs even when the heat or air conditioner is off. The salon owner should have a HVAC contractor clean the HVAC system and replace the filters at least once a year.
  • Place fans near open doors or windows. Fans should pull air in one end of the salon and push it out of the other end.

Ventilate the Room (Continued)

If the salon has ventilated tables:

  • Make sure they are turned on.
  • Change the charcoal filters at least once a month.
  • Clean out the catch basin at least once a week.

If the salon has portable ventilation machines, use them in your work area to pull harmful vapors away from you and your clients.

bad ventilation
Bad ventilation: Outside air from the open window blows the chemicals into the worker’s face before being vented out of the salon.
good ventilation
Good ventilation: Outside air from the open window blows the chemicals away from the worker’s face before being vented out of the salon.

Biological Hazards


Biological hazards include bacteria, fungi, and viruses. You can be exposed to many infectious agents, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), if you come into contact with infected blood from a coworker or client. 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.

Protection against Biological Hazards

  • Avoid touching any blood or bodily fluids.
  • Wear gloves, and avoid clients with cuts, open wounds/sores, blisters, or visibly infected skin on their hands, feet, or nails.
  • Throw away disposable gloves immediately after using them.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after working with clients to avoid spreading germs.
  • Bandage open cuts or broken skin to prevent contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials from a client or coworker.
  • If an individual is bleeding, do not touch the blood. Ask the individual to use a cotton ball or tissue to stop the bleeding and to throw the used material directly into the trash once the bleeding has stopped.
  • Consider getting immunized against hepatitis B. Your doctor can help you determine whether this is needed. Immunization practices can vary by state, so be sure to follow your state’s requirements. Your employer must offer you hepatitis B immunization without charge if you are likely to be exposed to blood or other infectious materials during your work.

Protection against Biological Hazards

  • Clean and disinfect tools after each client according to the policies of your state’s cosmetology board. Some common steps for cleaning and disinfecting tools are:
    • Always wear the right gloves for the product you are using while cleaning and handling disinfectants or tools soaked in disinfectant.
    • Wash tools with soap and water. Use a scrub if needed.
    • Soak tools in an EPA-registered disinfectant for 10–30 minutes, according to manufacturer directions. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when mixing the product ratios.
    • Rinse tools in clean water.
    • Dry tools with a clean cloth.
    • Store all disinfected tools in a clean, covered area. Only use ultraviolet (UV) sanitizing boxes to store clean and disinfected reusable metal tools. The UV boxes do not disinfect tools.
  • Disinfect foot basins and spas after each client and at the end of the day.


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.