Four Most Dangerous Chemicals to Nail Salon Workers

Four Most Dangerous Chemicals to Nail Salon Workers | Pintas & Mullins Law Firm

Prolonged exposure to certain chemicals found in in nail polishes, glues, removers, and other salon products may cause serious health problems to pregnant women.

Manicurists who inhale the harmful chemicals for hours at a time have the highest risk of developing serious side effects. Customers enjoying regular salon visits are exposed as well, but not with as great of magnitude as workers.


Chemicals of particular concern to nail salon workers are:

  1. Toluene

    This chemical occurs naturally in crude oil. It smells similarly to paint thinner. When someone breathes toluene in, it goes into the lungs and then into the bloodstream. The body either changes toluene to a less harmful chemical and stores it in fat tissue or gets rid of it.

    Prolonged exposure to toluene can have damaging effects. These can be small, like temporary headaches or dizziness, or devastating, causing vision and hearing loss, or birth defects to human fetuses.

  2. Formaldehyde

    This cancer-causing chemical is typically used to make fertilizer, disinfectants, and wood preservatives. It is also naturally produced by the human body in small amounts.

    Effects of inhalation can range from eye, nose, and throat irritation, to chest pains and bronchitis.

    Effects of swallowing formaldehyde can result in corrosion of the GI tract and formation of ulcers in the mouth, esophagus, and stomach.

  3. Dibutyl Phthalate

    This chemical is used to make plastic materials like shower curtains and car interiors soft and flexible. It is also found in many nail polishes and nail polish hardeners. The chemical is known to cause developmental and reproductive problems in mice, but the same effects have not yet been confirmed for humans.

  4. Ethyl Methacrylate

    Ethyl methacrylate (EMA) is a clear, liquid material used to make acrylic nails. Inhaling its vapors can contribute to the development of eye irritation, respiratory issues, and swelling and blistering of the skin (also known as dermatitis). Pregnant women exposed to EMA risk their child being born with birth defects.


Women who are, or may become, pregnant may risk miscarriage or having their children be born with defects like a cleft lip, club foot, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or heart defects.

Visible defects can be spotted right away, but it may take years and various tests to identify internal issues like heart defects.

These devastating injuries can have lifelong effects, with the most severe defects shortening the child’s life expectancy.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides a useful resource for salon owners about how to protect employees from hazardous chemicals.

OSHA urges salon owners to use products with the least amount of hazardous chemicals whenever possible. For example, products labeled 3-free claim to be made without toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate. 3-freeproducts should always take priority over similar products that do contain these chemicals. Products labeled acid freeclaim to be made without ethyl methacrylate and should be prioritized as well.

OSHA also gives salon owners five things they can do immediately to protect their employees’ health while they are on the clock:

  1. Identify harmful chemicals in salon products.
  2. Eliminate the use of toxic products.
  3. Ventilate areas where hazardous products are used.
  4. Provide workers with safety gloves and masks.
  5. Label and safely store toxic chemicals.


Nail salon workers who have miscarried or birthed children with birth defects should consider taking legal action immediately.

Our team understands how overwhelming it may be to pinpoint the exact cause of the injuries, and we work tirelessly to bring those responsible for your exposure to justice.

Contact our office today to discuss the details of your potential case with one of our attorneys.