Chanh Hang is a core leader of the CA Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative — an organization dedicated to improving the health, safety, and rights of the nail and beauty care workforce to achieve a healthier, more sustainable, and just industry.
We were so lucky to have Chanh join us in D.C. last fall to help deliver our report, Beauty and Its Beast: Unmasking the impact of toxic chemicals on salon workers. Armed with this report, Chanh and other salon workers and advocates headed to U.S. Capitol to call on lawmakers to ensure cosmetics are safe. Stylists from California and New York, and nail technicians from California — all who have experienced first-hand the ill-effects of working around too many toxins — took their experiences to D.C. in support of the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act (H.R. 1385). We applaud Chanh for her leadership in improving the health and safety of the salon industry.
Here is Chanh’s personal testimony she shared at the U.S. Capitol:
My name is Chanh Hang, I came to the US in 1992 and became a manicurist after learning about the nail trade from friends at the adult school where I was attending ESL classes. In 1995, I became the co-owner of Traci’s Nails in Oakland California. I chose to become a manicurist for the same reasons that many other Vietnamese Americans in the nail salon industry do. We like the work because: we can create beauty for women, the trade requires short training, and offers a flexible schedule which is good for a mother like me with small children. I became a salon owner because it provides me greater time flexibility for my family, additional income, and more control over my salon’s practices, which means that I can do what I think is best for my own health and my workers’ health! Fortunately, my husband and I make a pretty good living because we both work, and my salon generates more income since it was converted into a Healthy Nails Salon, as recognized by the county.
There are many things I like about working in salons; such the glamorous setting, with beautiful colors and new designs around me, and my customers who usually take pretty good care of their looks. But there are also several bad things about the trade, such as manicurists being exposed to harmful and toxic chemicals for 10 hours a day and for many of us, 7 days a week! I can definitely see the impact of chemical exposure on my own health with short-term symptoms like difficulty in breathing, red and watery eyes, and skin reactions. Most manicurists live with these conditions daily, and we unconsciously train ourselves to get used to them. But we all are always worried about the long-term effects that toxic chemicals in the products we use to provide services to clients might have on our health. Some workers try to look for safer products, and have better ventilation, but many others don’t know about these concerns or how to look for alternatives. Looking for safer products is not easy and they are often not readily available. Salon workers need to be equipped with knowledge and a good command of English to understand the small print on product packages. Regulations and inspections by the Board of Cosmetology and Barbering seems to focus on protecting consumers for good hygiene practices rather than helping nail salon workers be less exposed to toxic chemicals.
I joined the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative in 2008. The Collaborative provides nail salon workers with trainings and knowledge on important topics such as how to minimize the harm to ourselves when using toxic chemicals in salon product; and also on the need for advocacy for our own trade by us as workers. The curriculum includes training on how to organize a meeting and how to do outreach in our own community.
I just recently graduated from a 4-month-long training to become a Core Leader. I am now equipped with new knowledge and understand that if we manicurists want to stay working in this industry, it must be safer and healthier, meaning that toxic products must be replaced by safer alternatives, and dangerous chemicals have to be regulated so that manufacturers can’t put them into salon products and make big profits while sacrificing on our health and our lives.
My salon recently joined the Healthy Nail Salon Program Recognition of Alameda County in California, which helped me to convert my regular salon into a healthier one where we manicurists choose safer practices and products. I wish that all nail salon workers would understand the safety concerns in our industry, so that we could all boycott toxic products and force manufacturers to make safer items. But that is just a wish! In reality, better regulations from agencies and governments are needed to help nail salons become safer work environments, so that nail salon workers do not have to exchange our health for livelihood any longer! Salon workers can find some good information from OSHA’s “Stay Healthy While Giving Manicures and Pedicures” guide which can help them minimize exposure to bad chemicals. But the real change for our health must come from stronger regulations of chemicals to begin with.
Thank you. I really appreciate being part of the National Healthy Nail + Beauty Salon Alliance’s week of action and being able to share my story with all of you.