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First-of-its-Kind Report Links Long-Term Chemical Exposure in Salons to Adverse Health Outcomes

First-of-its-Kind Report Links Long-Term Chemical Exposure in Salons to Adverse Health Outcomes

Salon workers face disproportionate odds of cancer, low birth weight babies, miscarriage, asthma, dermatitis

MISSOULA, MT, November 11, 2014—Today, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) released Beauty and Its Beast: Unmasking the impact of toxic chemicals on salon workers, a first-of-its-kind report that analyzes the unique chemical exposures that salon workers experience, the health impacts they suffer, and the need for greater research, regulation, and innovation to ensure improved health and safety in the salon industry.

“Many salon workers pay too high a price for their jobs,” said Executive Director Erin Switalski. “Salon workers should be able to enjoy their work without paying a toll on their health.”

According to the Beauty and Its Beast report, hair sprays, permanent waves, acrylic nail application, and numerous other salon products contain ingredients associated with cancer, neurological symptoms, reproductive harm such as miscarriages and birth defects, asthma, and dermatitis. Examples of hazardous chemical ingredients found in salon products include formaldehyde, toluene, methyl methacrylate, p-phenylenediamine and ammonium persulfate. Elevated levels of hazardous and irritating chemicals such as toluene, ammonia, and methyl methacrylate have been detected in salon air, particularly in salons with minimal or no ventilation.

“Studies across the globe have found correlations between chemical exposures in salons and adverse health outcomes in employees,” said Alexandra Scranton, director of science and research for WVE. “However, until now, there has never been a comprehensive review of existing science that brings all the players onto one stage.”

Based on a review of the scientific literature, WVE found studies showing that hair salon workers have an increased risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer, lung cancer, cancer of the larynx, bladder cancer, and multiple myeloma. Hairdressers and cosmetologists are also more likely to give birth to low birth weight babies, especially when their work involves using hairspray and permanent waves, and have an increased risk of miscarriage and babies born with cleft palates.

In addition, a significant proportion of salon workers experience skin conditions like dermatitis, and breathing problems, such as asthma and cough, due to chemical exposures from their work. Some studies found that over 60% of salon workers suffer from skin conditions, such as dermatitis, on their hands. Salon workers are significantly more likely than comparison groups like office workers to suffer from cough and nasal and throat irritation due to their work.

“Once hair smoothing products like Brazilian Blowout hit salons nationwide, these health issues went to a whole new level because of exposure to formaldehyde, which is very toxic,” said Jennifer Arce, a salon worker based in San Diego, California. “Salon workers can experience bloody noses, sore throats, rashes, and respiratory infections from breathing in these fumes while working in the salon each day.”

WVE’s new report includes recommendations for protecting salon workers health including improved ventilation, the manufacture of safer products, participation in healthy salon recognition programs, as well as using safer products and appropriate protective equipment.

This report also strengthens the case for the need to pass legislation that will require safety substantiation of ingredients in salon products. Currently, the FDA does not require premarket safety testing of ingredients in cosmetics and salon products, and because of a loophole in the law salon products do not commonly carry a full listing of ingredients. While some ingredients may be listed on a Safety Data Sheet for a product, workers often have very limited knowledge of the chemicals to which they are being exposed.

As salon workers’ occupational health concerns have become more evident in recent years, advocates, salon workers, researchers, allies in government agencies, and others have come together to advocate for salon worker health, safety, and rights. In conjunction with the release of the report, this week WVE is in Washington, DC, with a delegation of salon workers and advocates, called the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance, for their third annual “Healthy Salons Week of Action.” The Alliance will meet with members of Congress to spotlight the health threats workers face from exposure to toxic chemicals in salon products. The Alliance is advocating for the full disclosure of ingredients in salon products and for legislation that will require safety substantiation of ingredients before they are used in products. Salon workers and advocates will also meet with officials from federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and the Food and Drug Administration to discuss ways the agencies can use their power to make salon safer places to work.

Arce added, “I’m going to Washington, DC, to speak with policy makers because they have the power to change our laws, and also to put some pressure on the FDA. It’s time for them to use the power they do have to issue a voluntary recall of Brazilian Blowout and other hair straighteners containing formaldehyde.”

Last year Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act (H.R. 1385), which would help to ensure ingredients in salon products are safe and require full ingredient disclosure for salon products. “The salon industry knows how to use really hazardous chemicals to do cool things to hair and nails. But, from our research, the price to salon workers’ health is much too high,” said Scranton. “Ultimately manufacturers need to innovate to create benign solutions for hair and nails that can accomplish the same tasks and achieve the same effects. Salon workers’ health depends on it.”

For more information and to download a copy of the report, visit womensvoices.org/salons.

Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research
alexs@womensvoices.org, (406) 396-1639, cell

Jamie McConnell, Director of Programs and Policy
jamiem@womensvoices.org, (406) 543-3747, office

Anuja Mendiratta, Co-founder, National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance
Anuja.healthysalons@yahoo.com, (510) 414-4330, cell

Women’s Voices for the Earth can provide salon worker contacts to members of the media.


Women’s Voices for the Earth amplifies women’s voices to eliminate the toxic chemicals that harm our health and communities. With thousands of members across the United States, WVE changes corporate practices, holds government accountable, and works to ensure a toxic-free future for all. Learn more at womensvoices.org.

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