LINCOLN BLVD — Cute Nails Salon owner Anh Nguyen has been working in the nail industry for 23 years, but she started to notice the chemicals in the products used were affecting her health.
Nguyen, who has owned the salon for more than 10 years, said her eyes would get red and she had difficulty breathing.
“But because I enjoy the work so much, I didn’t have a choice to work without these chemicals and I didn’t know I could do nails in a healthier and safer way,” Nguyen said.
But that changed Tuesday when the salon was the first to express interest in participating in the Healthy Nail Salon Program, a joint collaboration between the city of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative.
Santa Monica is the first city in Southern California to kick off the program. The aim of the program is to promote using healthier, less toxic nail products and officials hope Santa Monica’s 30 nail salons will participate in the program. The city by the sea follows San Francisco and Alameda County.
Nguyen said she learned about ways to protect her health when doing manicures and pedicures. The salon employs two workers, including herself.
“I was excited to hear about the … program and I learned how to improve my salon practice for the benefit of my health and my workers’ health and my customers’ health,” she said. Nguyen wasn’t sure how long it would take for her to get rid of all the toxic nail polishes.
Some of the requirements to be a part of the program include avoiding nail polishes that have a “toxic trio” of chemicals (toluene, dibutyl phthalate and formaldehyde), using a required ventilation unit to improve air quality, working with particular nail polish thinners without toluene and methyl ethyl ketone and using nitrile gloves for workers.
Salons also need to fill out an application and attend a free training session, which will be held toward the end of the summer, according to Lisa Fu, outreach and program director for the collaborative.
She said the first salons to join will qualify to win one of two free ventilation units. The units remove dust and fumes from the air.
Once they are part of the program, a certified “Healthy Nail Salon” will have a seal on the front of their establishment and free advertising and promotion by City Hall and the collaborative.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, the “toxic trio” can cause nausea, difficulty breathing, headaches, dizziness, and numbness, among other symptoms.
Fu said in a study released in 2011, salon workers experienced health problems such as trouble breathing, skin, nose, throat and eye irritations, reproductive problems, and even cancers.
The changes will also benefit nail salon customers, according to Julia Liou, manager of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative and a public health administrator at Asian Health Services.
“There are a lot of consumers looking to go to [salons] that are less toxic, more healthy so I think this will improve their customer base and it’ll be better for their business,” she said.
Karl Bruskotter, toxic use reduction coordinator for the Office of Sustainability and Environment, said salons in the program can take the nail polishes with toxic chemicals to the Household Hazardous Waste Center for disposal.
“Those chemicals are very nasty,” Bruskotter said. “I think for the nail salon workers and the customers that come in here to get pampered a little bit, they shouldn’t have to risk their health to do that.”
For more information on the program and how to join, visit sustainablesm.org/healthynailsalons.