Everyone deserves to live in a healthy and safe environment. That environment includes where you live, work, play, and pray. We reject and actively push back against racist rhetoric, actions, policies and institutional oppression that leads to state-sanctioned brutality, gun violence, and harm that again and again assaults communities, particularly communities of color. We are committed to working for justice and equity, and are in solidarity with social, racial, and environmental justice organizations to build community, understanding and honest dialogue to address the root causes of violence, harm and hate.

Impossible Instructions: Safety Concerns with Toxic Chemicals and User Instructions in Professional Salon Products

Impossible Instructions: Safety Concerns with Toxic Chemicals and User Instructions in Professional Salon Products

We just finished our report on chemicals in salon products, in which we took photos of ingredient labels of nearly 150 products. I (Alex Scranton, WVE’s Director of Science and Research) read all those labels, and I was looking for the presence of harmful chemicals.

And I was both alarmed and frustrated by what was found – we found the very same harmful chemicals that salon workers have literally been warned about for decades!

Here are some examples:

  • Persulfates in hair bleaches. We know these chemicals harm your lungs if you breathe them in – if they are in bleaches in powder form that are easy to breathe in. And we know that this is contributing to the high rates of asthma in salon workers. This is not okay anymore!
  • Hydroxides in hair relaxers.. These are chemicals very, very corrosive to skin, can cause blindness if you get them in your eyes, and likely contributes to hair loss.
  • Dimethyltolylamine — this is in nail polish thinner. This chemical causes cancer.

Simply, the industry knows better than to keep using these chemicals.

I had to ask: Why are they still there? How are these manufacturers getting away with these chemicals which we know are harmful, particularly that are harmful to salon worker health?

Well, unfortunately the law is not as great as it should be. The laws basically say that a product is adulterated (or illegal) if it causes injury under the conditions of use prescribed in the labeling. So, basically, if you use it like you are supposed to — and you still get injured — then it can be considered adulterated, or illegal.

But what we have discovered in looking at these labels – is what many manufacturers have done – is instead of taking these harmful ingredients out, they have prescribed really specific safety instructions for these products. So if you fail to follow these instructions exactly – any injury that you get, becomes basically, legally your own fault. The manufacturers are putting the responsibility for safety of these hazardous chemicals on you.

The thing is, the instructions they give you are often totally unrealistic, and usually practically impossible to follow.

For example – you have probably seen this?

Most hair relaxers include instructions such as “Keep relaxer off scalp and other skin areas.”This is kind of fighting gravity: You are applying the relaxer to the hair…the hair is growing out of the scalp…but you have to make sure none of this stuff gets on the scalp or any other skin areas. That’s ridiculous, and unfair. The manufacturer should be responsible for creating a hair relaxer that can occasionally contact the skin and scalp safely, because they know that is going to happen.

Here’s another one: We found nail polish thinners and even some nail acrylic liquids include the safety instructions that say to “Use only outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.” These are salon products – which most of the time, naturally — are getting used INSIDE a salon. They are not getting used in the park. They are not getting used in your driveway. They are intended to be used inside a salon. Clearly the manufacturers need to be designing products with chemicals that can safely be used indoors. It’s not fair to make it somehow your fault for being injured because you are doing your work inside your salon.

So what can we do? Well our new report, EXPOSED: Ingredients in Salon Products & Salon Worker Health and Safety, co-released by WVE, Black Women for Wellness and the California Health Nail Salon Collaborative, is designed to raise some awareness of this safety workaround. You, as a salon worker, have a very important voice in the matter, because you are the customers for these products. The manufacturers are responsible to you.

So first of all, let your suppliers and manufacturers know how you feel about these unrealistic user instructions instead of providing you safer ingredients. It’s not okay to have these unfair safety instructions that allow these very dangerous chemicals in your products.

Secondly, read those instructions carefully on the products you use, and think twice about using products that have user instructions that you find impossible to follow. Because your health is on the line – and it should be the manufacturer’s responsibility to protect your health by making a product that safe to use.

For more information about our report, CLICK HERE!

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