The US manicure industry is poisoning its workers

ManicuristBebeto Matthews/APLisa Moon, left, manicures a customer, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, in New York.

Miscarriages, respiratory problems, and skin infections are just some of the side effects manicurists experience as a result of being exposed to a cocktail of poisonous chemicals on a daily basis, the New York Times has reported.

Manicurists at nail salons across the US spend hours every day inhaling harmful nail product ingredients such as dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde — known toxicants that are banned in cosmetics in the EU and come with health warnings in Australia, according to the Times.

“The safe and historical use of these ingredients is not questioned by the F.D.A.,” Lisa Powers a spokeswoman for the cosmetics industry lobbying group Personal Care Products Council, told the Times. One reason for this is that cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA approval before going on the market.

After interviewing more than 125 nail salon workers over thirteen months, however, the Times found not only that the chemicals cause clear and serious harm to manicurists, but that many salons actively discourage their employees from wearing “unsightly” protective gear like masks and gloves.

Painful skin afflictions come with the job. Nail salon workers can often recognise each other on the street from the “coffee-coloured stains on their cheeks” and other skin discoloration that comes from touching nail hardeners and glues all day long, one manicurist told the Times.

Airway ailments, constant nosebleeds and perpetual sore throats are ubiquitous as well. “They come in usually with breathing problems, some symptoms similar to an allergy, and also asthma symptoms — they cannot breathe,” a doctor in Queens told the New York Times.

“Judging from the symptoms with these women, it seems that they are either smokers, secondhand smokers or asthma patients, but they are none of the above,” he added. “They work for nail salons.”

ManicureREUTERS/Erik De CastroNancy Bolata receives a manicure at a roadside beauty stall in a squatter colony in Quezon city, Metro Manila July 6, 2013.

Children born to manicurists often have birth defects or developmental problems, and it is not uncommon for pregnant nail salon workers to miscarry — in many cases more than once.

“When babies are forming in your womb, they absorb everything, and if they are exposed to anything, it can cause them harm,” one women recalls a doctor telling her after she took her developmentally disabled son for an exam.

Another salon worker told the Times that she has has miscarried five times in five years. She says she laughed, however, when her doctor told her to quit her job as a manicurist.

“Who is going to pay my bills?” she asked.

Read the full New York Times investigation here ยป

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