Assemblymember Chiu pushes for regulations to end use of hazardous chemicals at nail salons state-wide

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Sophia’s Beauty Lounge in San Francisco is one of about 30 nail salons in the city recognized as a “healthy nail salon,” with a sticker in the window from the city verifying that the salon doesn’t use nail polishes containing hazardous chemicals that could harm the health of their employees and customers.

Sophia Nguyen, who runs the salon on Cesar Chavez Street near Mission Street, said the process of becoming a recognized healthy nail salon wasn’t all that difficult, it just took basic research and a little initiative.

Nguyen said that when she opened the salon, she purchased nail polishes that didn’t contain ingredients known to be harmful, such as formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate and toluene. She also made sure the employees were trained in safer practices.

Then an employee from San Francisco’s Department of the Environment checked out the salon, gave tips for improvements and then came by unannounced for a final inspection. She then received a plaque and a sticker with the Healthy Nail Salon Program logo for the window of her shop.

California Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) today commended Sophia’s Beauty Lounge and other San Francisco salons that have worked with SF Environment to ensure that nail salon workers aren’t exposed to harmful chemicals.

“There are hidden costs to polished nails,” Chiu said.

Chiu announced the establishment of the Healthy Nail Salon Task Force at Sophia’s Beauty Lounge today, explaining that nail salons across the state need to follow Nguyen’s example for the sake of their employees and their customers.

The task force will consider a statewide healthy nail recognition program that doubles as an educational campaign and an incentive for businesses to use safer products and better ventilation.

It will also consider requiring ingredient disclosure of professional cosmetic products and enhancing the California Safe Cosmetics Act by expanding scope and enforcement capabilities.

The Healthy Nail Salon Task Force will work through the fall on nail salon issues with a goal of pursuing legislation during the 2016 session that begins in January, according to Chiu.

“Our Healthy Nail Salon Task Force will consider these sensitive and complex issues and work hard to craft real, effective solutions,” Chiu said.

Best of all, Chiu said, these healthy changes are good for business and are likely to attract more customers.

He said there are over 100,000 nail salon technicians in California, of which more than 80 percent are of Asian descent and about 50 percent are of childbearing age.

SF Environment’s healthy nail salon program, which touts the slogan “Pretty shouldn’t stink,” is a recognition program that helps nail salons implement changes and highlights them for their efforts.

The program helps nail salons use safer products and proper ventilation, and gain recognition for their efforts. Since the program began in 2010, five other counties in California have implemented similar programs, according to Chiu.

Administered by SF Environment, the programs help nail salons use safer products and proper ventilation, and gain recognition for their efforts. Five other counties have since implemented similar programs.

Julia Liou, planning and development director at Asian Health Services in Oakland and co-founder of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative said salon workers’ exposure to hazardous chemicals is routinely overlooked.

This exposure can cause cancer, birth defects and miscarriages, Liou said.

She said unfortunately, workers are exposed “just to help their customers feel beautiful.”

She said workers shouldn’t have to choose between making a living and preserving their health. She said there must be more support at the state level to encourage salons to become healthier and safer places to work.

Catherine Porter, policy director at the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, said many cosmetics that are used professionally do not have labels that list the ingredients and sometimes just put the word “fragrance” which could mask up to 100 different chemicals.

Porter said California Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a cosmetics bill earlier this year that could lead to safer cosmetics, but it is currently sitting in committee.

Porter said there are a lot of chemical and cosmetics companies who are fighting against such legislation.

Debbie Raphael, director of SF Environment, said manufacturers must be held accountable and need to reformulate their products and get the toxic chemicals out.

“Now, it’s time for San Franciscans to step up and do your part by patronizing a recognized Healthy Nail Salon, or asking your salon to join our program,” Raphael said.

Nancy Buermeyer, senior policy strategist at the Breast Cancer Fund said that in comparison to the European Union, which has outlawed around 1,100 chemicals for use in cosmetics, the United States is pretty lax, outlawing only about 10 chemicals.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who chairs the Assembly Select Committee on Women in the Workplace said in a statement today, “We have to address any cracks in the system if nail salon workers aren’t receiving the same basic wage and workplace protections as everyone else.”

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