Can Nail Salon Fumes Be Dangerous?

When passing by or entering a nail salon, you may notice there may be a toxic smell. Think this is just an hallucination? No, your nose is correct, there are toxic fumes and you and the salon staff are could be breathing them in.

The products applied to your toes that make them fire-engine red or make your fingernails luxuriously long and shapely can contain chemicals that are suspected or known to cause cancer and birth defects. There are also studies that are concerned with long-term effects which can occur 5, 10, even 20 years after exposure.

There are no requirements for ventilation or protective gear for these salons. There are suggestions regarding health and safety which is included Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), but they are suggestions to the industry not a requirement. The government does not mandate regulations for nail polishes, removers and acrylic nail products to check safety before they are painted to your digits, that’s up to the manufacturers discretion.

When frequenting a salon, see if they have a copy of the MSDS on premises, this usually means they are concerned about fumes and exposure.

Here are some suggestions for proper ventilation and reduction of fumes for salons:

# Proper ventilation: Ventilate room to the outdoors; manicure tables should have well-maintained charcoal filters or ventilation leading outdoors.

# Personal safety devices: Odor masks with charcoal filters protect from some vapors; protective gloves specific to the chemicals should be used.

# Safe storage: Store chemicals with tight lids; open containers for short periods of time.

# Cleanliness: Dispose of solvent-saturated tissues and cotton balls in plastic bags and metal, lidded garbage cans, which should be emptied daily.

# Products: Select products that contain fewer toxic ingredients; read Material Safety Data Sheets for ingredient and safety information. Recent research has identified polishes and removers from Honeybee Gardens, Sante Kosmetic and en Vogue Sculptured Nail Systems as safer alternatives.


Acetone: Solvent in nail polish remover, polish; can cause nose, throat and eye irritation, headaches, confusion, nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness and possibly coma, and shortening of the menstrual cycle.

Dibutyl phthalate: Plasticizer in nail polish; easily absorbed through the skin and intestinal tract and can cross the placenta into the fetus; can cause development problems in the male genitals of humans and rats; exposed pregnant rodents have fewer live pups and smaller offspring.

Toluene: Solvent in nail polish remover and nail treatments; low levels can cause tiredness, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite, and hearing and color vision loss; high levels can cause birth defects in children including retarded mental abilities and growth.

Ethyl methacrylate: Used to form artificial nails; can cause eye and skin irritation, vapors may cause dizziness or suffocation.

Sources: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; Environmental Protection Agency; Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel; New Ecology Inc.