New Ingredient Transparency Requirements Expose that Salon Professionals Continue to Be Put at Risk by Industry
Jamie McConnell, Deputy Director, Women’s Voices for the Earth
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Lisa Fu, Executive Director, California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative
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Dr. Astrid Williams, Environmental Justice Program Manager, Black Women for Wellness
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Disclosure requirements reveal lack of ingredient safety innovation in the professional salon industry despite years of documented links to adverse health impacts on salon workers
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE – A new report released by health and justice organizations, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), Black Women for Wellness, and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative (CHNSC), spotlights how new ingredient disclosure requirements for professional salon products are providing improved and vital information about chemical exposure from the use of these products. The report, Exposed: Ingredients in Salon Products & Salon Worker Health and Safety, calls attention to significant changes the industry has made in increasing ingredient transparency as a result of new laws. It also points to chemicals of concern that, despite years of documented links to adverse health impacts, continue to be widely used in professional nail and hair products. Specifically, the report reveals over 30 hazardous ingredients in professional salon products only recently disclosed on product labels.
“For decades hair and nail salon workers have been denied essential ingredient information about the products they are exposed to at their jobs,” said Alexandra Scranton, lead author on the report and WVE’s Director of Science and Research. “While studies of salon workers have long established the health dangers associated with chemicals used in professional salon products, the industry has been legally allowed to keep these harmful ingredients a secret. Finally, we’re getting a clearer look into exactly what and where exposures are occurring, and more importantly, we can hold the industry accountable for the pervasive use of hazardous ingredients known to put the health of workers and their clients at risk.”
“Hair and nail salon professionals bear a high burden from toxic chemicals in beauty care. There is inadequate regulation and policy to protect workers. Unfortunately, hair and nail care professionals are overexposed and under-protected to a greater extent and a disproportionate number of workers are Black individuals, and women of color,” said Dr. Astrid Williams, Environmental Justice Program Manager with Black Women for Wellness. “The industry’s apparent disregard of ingredient safety means these workers are forced to bear a higher toxic load for working day in and day out with some of the most toxic chemicals.”
Several significant cosmetics laws newly enacted in California are providing more information about professional salon products than ever before. Of particular importance to ingredient transparency is AB 2775 that passed in 2018 (introduced by Assembly Member Ash Kalra (D-San Jose)) and was enacted in July 2020 – making California the first state in the nation to require manufacturers of professional salon products to disclose ingredients. Unlike retail cosmetics, products used by salon professionals were previously not required to list any ingredient information on the label, making it nearly impossible for salon workers to know what chemicals they are being exposed to and preventing workers from selecting products that may pose less of a health risk.
Also of significance to ingredient information of salon products and cosmetics is California’s Fragrance and Flavors Right to Know Act of 2020 (SB 312) which requires manufacturers to report toxic fragrance and flavor ingredients listed on the California Safe Cosmetic Program (CSCP) Reportable Ingredient list to the CSCP. This information is publicly available on the California Safe Cosmetics Program Product Database.
From August 2022 – October 2022, the report’s co-releasers led a field study examining ingredient disclosures on salon product labels in California. This new report examines the findings of that field study.
“Companies have little incentive to develop safer and better alternatives to toxic ingredients when they are allowed to sell products without having to admit what’s in them,” said Lisa Fu, Executive Director of the CA Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative (CHNSC). “Ingredient transparency is a step in the right direction towards centering the health of those most impacted – the beauty care workforce.”
“I think that it’s our right as stylists to know what chemicals we’re exposed to so that we can make informed decisions on whether or not we want to use certain products for our own protection as well as for the safety of our clients,” said Freda Cullins, who has been a hair professional for over two decades. “I hope for honest, effective, clean products with ingredients that I can identify and trace back to a source that has a place in maintaining the health of hair.”
Results of the field study found that most professional salon products reviewed did include a listing of ingredients on the package, yet compliance was still imperfect in many cases. The three types of compliance problems included products having no listing of ingredients at all; ingredient information was either inaccessible or impossible due to missing outer packaging; or product labels listed ingredients in a manner that was vague or non-specific.
The report also reveals a damaging lack of innovation toward safer chemistry in the professional salon product industry. Despite decades of warning from public health officials about many chemicals used in these products – and known harm to salon workers – the report outlines numerous hazardous chemicals remain widespread in professional salon products that harm lungs, cause allergic skin reactions and are linked to reproductive harm and cancer. And in cases where manufacturers did make changes to formulas in an attempt to reduce toxicity, many times toxic ingredients were replaced with regrettable substitutions; a known practice where essentially one toxic chemical is swapped out for chemically-similar, toxic alternative.
“Swapping one toxic chemical for another is not a solution to safer products or improved ingredients,” said Jamie McConnell, Deputy Director at WVE. “The industry needs to do the due diligence necessary to develop truly safer alternatives before putting it on the market. The choice of regrettable substitutions perpetuates occupational exposure to harmful chemicals among salon workers and their customers. The industry can and must do better to protect health.”
Studies routinely show that women working in nail salons report acute health concerns such as rashes, headaches, dizziness, and breathing difficulties, as well as miscarriages, birth defects and cancers.   Hairdressers are at increased risk of miscarriage and babies born with cleft palates. In addition, studies found that hairdressers have greater risks of dying from neurological conditions including, Alzheimer’s disease and pre-senile dementia, compared to workers in other jobs. 
“I was very healthy before starting work in the nail industry. Three or four years after working in the nail salon industry, my hands started shaking. My entire left arm went numb, so I couldn’t feel it a lot. At work, while massaging customers, I would pretend to use my left hand to push, but really I was just doing the motion. My right hand was doing most of the massage. I also had bad body aches,” said Trish Pham, a former nail salon worker whose story is featured in the report. “Then I got cervical cancer. I don’t know if any of my body aches or left hand numbing or the cancer is related to the nail salon industry. I just know that after the cancer treatment I had to quit the nail salon work because it is too dangerous for me now.”
In addition, instead of any significant innovation to make salon products safer, the report uplifts how the industry is relying on warning labels and complex user instructions to reduce exposure to the toxic chemicals they contain – many of which are virtually impossible to follow given the nature of these products. For example, hair relaxers include warnings to “Keep relaxer off scalp and other skin areas.” While caution can certainly be taken to minimize skin exposure, this is clearly an unrealistic instruction for a product that is intended to be applied to hair that is growing out of one’s scalp. What’s more, this tactic unfairly puts the responsibility for safety on the shoulders of salon workers, rather than on the manufacturers.
“Cosmetic companies often put egregious and unrealistic use instructions on products that can be completely contrary to the product’s purpose,” said Tianna Shaw Wakeman, Environmental Justice Program Lead at Black Women for Wellness. “This unfairly puts the onus on salon workers to make changes instead of on companies to make safe products. Therefore, not only have many salon workers been forced to use products with ingredients that harm their health and the health of their clients, but in many cases, they’ve also been blamed for this harm. It’s simply cruel.”
FUTURE OF COSMETICS AND SALON PRODUCT SAFETY UNDER MODERNIZATION OF COSMETICS REGULATION ACT (MOCRA)
In 2022, the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022 (MOCRA) was signed by President Biden. Under this new law, professional salon products are required to meet the same requirements as the labeling of retail cosmetics by the end of 2024, bringing the rest of the nation up to par with requirements in California. MOCRA represents the first significant updates to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in over 80 years. In addition to requiring the labeling of salon products, the law also requires manufacturers to report serious adverse events to the FDA within 15 days; gives the FDA the authority to issue a mandatory recall of products that are adulterated and/or misbranded if the manufacturer doesn’t voluntarily recall the product; and requires labeling of fragrance allergens, as directed by the FDA via new regulations. These new laws mark a significant change in the public’s right to know (and particularly salon worker’s right to know) about ingredients in cosmetic products.
“This level of transparency and increased regulations for cosmetics salon products has been decades in the making and is something to celebrate. We have long fought for ingredient transparency as an invaluable tool to empower the public and as an important step toward ingredient safety and corporate accountability. And we’re getting there. Ultimately, all manufacturers can and should improve on their disclosure and the ingredient safety of these products, and support policies to ensure transparency, safety and accessibility is practiced throughout the industry,” said Scranton of WVE.
“I have always made a point of knowing as much as possible in my field, especially about products and chemicals I am exposed to, but the information in this report made me realize how much I did not know. It makes me angry and sad for the lack of protection we have been experiencing for years,” said Fabienne Grisel-Todorov, a hair professional who participated in the report’s field study and research. “But I am thrilled to see things changing for the better and that laws are being updated. The impact of knowing what is in the products is huge, not just for salon workers, but also for the public who trust us as their stylists in making informative decisions, and let them know if they are exposed to allergen or dangerous chemicals. Having ingredients stated on the labels helps everyone.”
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View Report Fact Sheet.
 Quach, Thu, et al, Adverse birth outcomes and maternal complications in licensed cosmetologists and manicurists in California, Int Arch Occup Environ Health (December 2014)
 Beauty and it’s Beast, https://womensvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Beauty-and-Its-Beast.pdf
 Park RM, Schulte PA, Bowman JD, Walker JT, Bondy SC, Yost MG, Touchstone JA, Dosemeci M. Potential occupational risks for neurodegenerative diseases. Am J Ind Med. 2005 Jul;48(1):63-77.
Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE)
Founded in 1995, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) drives action towards a future free from the impacts of toxic chemicals alongside those historically and presently ignored by the environmental health movement by leveraging an intersectional solidarity approach based on our expertise in research, advocacy and organizing. womensvoices.org
Black Women for Wellness
Black Women for Wellness is a nonprofit 501c3 committed to the health and well-being of Black women and girls through health education, empowerment and advocacy. bwwla.org
California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative (CHNSC)
The California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative’s mission is to mobilize the nail salon workforce to transform the health, safety, and working conditions of the nail salon industry to build a healthy, sustainable, and equitable community. Through outreach and education, nail salon workers and owners build their knowledge and skills on health, safety, and workplace rights. We also provide leadership development and believe in organizing to transform communities, organizations and individuals. For more information, see www.cahealthynailsalons.org.