Safe manicures and pedicures

Are Pedicures and Manicures Safe?

Have you ever been in the beauty salon and thought to yourself:

“What is that smell?”

“Are they making fun of me?”

While I’m sure that they are not making fun of the fact that its winter and your legs are hairier than a bear’s, I can honestly say that the horrible smell is a toxic blend of some pretty heinous chemicals that are really causing harm to you and the employees who are trapped in poorly ventilated rooms.

Now not all salons are poorly ventilated and some go to great lengths to ensure that their employees enjoy fresh, healthy air. But if you can smell chemicals, then you are certainly breathing in the kinds of noxious fumes that contribute to allergies, cancer and respiratory problems.

There has been some awareness over the last five years to the ‘toxic-trio” of chemicals contained in most nail polishes. These are Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate, and Formaldehyde.

The Environmental Working Group has a Skin Deep Database which rates chemicals that this terrible trio all score a 10 Hazard rating (the highest and more toxic rating). From their database:

Toluene: A volatile petrochemical solvent and paint thinner, toluene is a potent neurotoxicant that acts as an irritant, impairs breathing, and causes nausea. Mother’s exposure to toluene vapors during pregnancy may cause developmental damage in the fetus. In human epidemiological studies and in animal studies toluene has been also associated with toxicity to the immune system and a possible link to blood cancer such as malignant lymphoma.

Dibutyl Phthalate (DPB): The State of California and other authoritative bodies have classified dibutyl phthalate (DBP) as a reproductive and developmental toxicant, and the European Union banned the use of this ingredient in cosmetics and personal care products. In animal studies, exposure to DBP during gestation causes infertility, cryptorchidism and problems in sperm development, adverse effects similar to human testicular dysgenesis syndrome. Prenatal exposure to DBP has been associated with anatomical changes in the reproductive system development in baby boys. In adult men, DBP has been correlated with changes in serum hormone levels, lower sperm concentration and motility, and decreased fertility.

Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic impurity released by a number of cosmetic preservatives. Despite the considerable health concerns associated with this carcinogen, until recently formaldehyde itself was a common ingredient of nail polish. Consumer pressure has now forced many major cosmetics manufacturers to voluntarily remove this ingredient from their nail products.

More disturbing is that many products which are labelled ‘three-free’ have been found to STILL contain these chemicals.

There are some brands that have taken the plunge and gone greener and have a Skin Deep rating of one or two:

  • Acquarella Nail Polish
  • Suncoat Nail Polish
  • Honeybee Gardens Nail Polish
  • Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC) Nail Polish
  • Keeki Pure and Simple Nail Polish
  • Piggy Paint Nail Polish

Podiatrist and author of “Death by Pedicure”, Dr. Robert Spalding, states that “…at this time, an estimated one million unsuspecting clients walk out of their chosen salon with infections—bacterial, viral and fungal.”

Sidebar: EW!

And he claims that it doesn’t really matter which salon you frequent as up to 75% of US stores aren’t following their state’s disinfection protocols by not soaking tools properly or using cheaper products which are ineffective to save money.

Sephora nail and gel expert Terri Silacci warns that severe trimming of the cuticles can actually lead to permanent damage and wavy nail beds: “Do not let the tech cut living tissue. An educated tech will gently push back the cuticle and then conservatively trim the dead tissue that is hanging. Everything else stays to protect the nail bed.”

The best way to ensure your pedicure and manicure are safe is to ensure that all the tools used are either new or have been properly sterilized. These include the pumice, nail files and clippers and cuticle cutters.

Opt for salons that are well-ventilated and don’t smell like chemicals and take your own nail polish, base and top coats so that you can be sure that all your little piggies are safe and sound.

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Nikki is an author and writer specializing in green living ideas and tips, adventure travel, upcycling, and all things eco-friendly. She's traveled the globe, swum with sharks and been bitten by a lion (fact). She lives in a tiny town with a fat cat and a very bad dog.

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One thought on “Are Pedicures and Manicures Safe?

  1. Nikki Fotheringham Post author

    Wow – this is the best comment in the world ever. Thanks Sandra – you really made my day. Where is your eco-friendly day spa?

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