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Researchers Identify Barriers to Healthier Work Conditions for Nail Salon Workers

Nail technician painting women's nails.

February 14, 2019

There are more than 400,000 licensed technicians working in nail salons across the United States and the industry — which has seen a 300 percent increase in salons and technicians in the last 20 years — continues to grow. Many nail technicians put in long hours, without basic health care coverage, while earning annual salaries estimated at roughly $25,000. Several recent studies also show that nail salon workers are exposed to a range of hazards at work, including toxic chemicals, ergonomic hazards, and possible disease transmission from clients. Workers often report skin and respiratory irritation and musculoskeletal pain.

Yet, finding effective ways to provide healthier environments for nail salon workers is far from simple. A new study, conducted by Tran Huynh, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of Environmental and Occupational Health, at the Dornsife School of Public Health, found that improving industry practices around health involved a “complex interplay among the various stakeholders including nail technicians, owners, clients, and policy makers.” 

Huynh explains “a lack of the awareness of workplace hazards and effective ways to minimize exposures puts nail salon technicians at heightened risk. This is coupled with gaps in policies and or regulations and enforcement, and risky practices continue to exist under the radar.”

Tran and her team conducted a qualitative survey of salon workers and managers, in metropolitan Philadelphia, to explore the factors that contributed to the health and safety practices among selected nail salon technicians and owners. They found that while some basic knowledge about the hazards and control measures were generally known among the employees, misconceptions about certain health and safety practices also existed. These included, but weren’t limited to, the use of surgical masks for dust and chemical protection or the belief that muscular pain is mostly due to aging.

“Some of these misunderstandings were consistent with reports of nail salon practices from other states which may indicate information and training gaps persist not only in Philadelphia, but potentially among the larger nail salon industry,” the researchers wrote.

The Dornsife team plans to follow this study with other work translated into additional languages and an investigation into effective, policy-level interventions.  

Read the study, “Factors Influencing Health and Safety Practices Among Vietnamese Nail Salon Technicians and Owners: A Qualitative Study," was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Co-authors include: Ngoc Doan, research assistant at the Dornsife School of Public Health; Ngan Trinh of Temple University; Niko Verdecias, a doctoral student in the Dornsife School of Public Health; Samantha Stalford, research assistant in the Dornsife School of Public Health; and Amy Carollā€Scott, PhD, associate professor of community health and prevention.