Only One “Healthy Nail Salon” in Potrero Hill

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Three years ago, the View reported on the health risks nail products pose to salon workers in the United States, in “Nail Salon Industry Slow to Clip Health Hazards,” July, 2015. Since then, hundreds of salons throughout California have improved their health and safety standards.

Known as the “toxic trio,” three chemicals commonly found in nail polish – toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate – can induce such side effects as nausea, difficulty breathing, liver and kidney damage, and birth defects. What’s more, upwards of 90 percent of the 10,000 chemicals used in nail polishes haven’t been tested for possible hazardous effects on humans, according to the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, one of 13 California organizations to receive the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award earlier this year.

Chemicals found in nail products can can cause severe health problems for salon workers, who are constantly exposed to nail products. Formaldehyde, for example, is a known carcinogenic; longterm exposure to it can be hazardous.

Since 2005, the Nail Salon Collaborative, launched by Oakland-based Asian Health Services, has worked with municipalities to establish healthy nail salon recognition programs. Counties and cities have officially designated almost 200 salons in California as “healthy;” they don’t use nail polish containing the toxic trio, ensure proper ventilation, and mandate that their staff wear protective gloves and masks.

“There’s been quite a bit of progress,” said Julia Liou, chief deputy at Asian Health Services, and California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative director. Liou encouraged consumers to advance the crusade by only patronizing salons that adhere to healthy practices and prioritize worker health. “It’s an important movement, because worker health issues have become an epidemic; not just in California, but all across the nation,” Liou said.

There are 48 healthy nail salons in San Francisco, according to Jen Jackson, Toxics Reduction and Healthy Ecosystems programs manager at the San Francisco Department of the Environment, at least one in almost every neighborhood. In 2015, there were only 16 recognized healthy nail salons in the City.

“Three years ago, we set a goal for ourselves to try to get 20 percent of the market in San Francisco to become healthy nail salons. There are about 250 salons in the City, so 50 would be 20 percent, so we are almost at our number,” Jackson said. “We are really proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last few years.”

District 10, which includes Potrero Hill, has the lowest number of healthy salons. District 5, with Haight-Ashbury, the Panhandle and the Western Addition, has the highest amount, 12. Presently, there’s only one recognized salon in the Hill:  Tiptoes Nail Salon, om De Haro Street.

According to Jackson, salon owners are hesitant to adopt safer practices and become a healthy salon because they’re worried that wearing masks or gloves might look strange to customers. The Department of the Environment wants to spread awareness among consumers, with the hope that’ll induce salon owners to join the program. 

“One of the main things salon workers say is that they don’t want to wear the gloves because the customer doesn’t understand why they’re wearing them. It’s really important for their health to wear them, but they’re also afraid of losing business,” Jackson said. “It really helps when customers are aware of the practices that we’re asking the salons to employ, like if the workers are wearing masks and gloves it’s not because the customer is polluted somehow; it’s to protect from chemicals.”