Protecting the Health & Safety of Nail Salon Employees

In recent years, national concern for the health and safety of nail salon workers in the US has increased significantly. The Michigan Healthy Nail Salon Cooperative (MHNSC), formed in 2016, is dedicated to investigating hazards, raising awareness through educating, and identifying solutions to ensure a healthy and safe environment for nail salon owners and workers.

Aurora Le, John G. Searle Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the U-M School of Public Health, and Marie-Anne Rosemberg, Assistant Professor in the U-M School of Nursing and core faculty at the U-M Education and Research Center (ERC) program funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), join this episode of Michigan Minds to talk about the MHNSC’s research, education, and advocacy efforts. 

The cooperative was started as part of the Workplace Health Without Borders effort and was initiated by Dr. Edward Zellers. Rosemberg joined a year after the founding and Le a few years later. They now co-lead MHNSC. 

“We’re excited because we’re both women of color who come from immigrant families,” Rosemberg says. “I was born and raised in another country, and many nail salon workers are immigrant women, particularly Asian and of childbearing age, who are exposed to a number of occupational hazards, especially chronic chemical hazards. But also their health and safety are often overlooked due to their position within the society. We are both, Dr. Le and I, passionate about addressing occupational health disparities and occupational justice.” 

There isn’t a lot of oversight of the chemical products that are used in nail salons, Le says, and there has been increased public interest in the hazards of chemicals. 

“Even for these nail salon workers who may be aware of some of the hazards, they usually don’t have a choice or feel like they don’t have a choice because this is the primary means to earn a living.”

Aurora Le

Through a grant from the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute, Rosemberg and Le developed a free smartphone-friendly, hour-long training on chemical hazards and nail salons,  helping nail salon owners and employees to understand the long-term impacts of the hazards they encounter and how to protect themselves. The MHNSC has used several approaches including focus groups to conduct research, using community-based participation to build a connection with local salon owners and workers. 

“We invite workers and owners to be part of a community advisory board, with the goal that they will guide our steps and all the endeavors that we take since the focus is on them, their safe workplace environment, their well-being, and the sustainability of their businesses,” Rosemberg says, adding that they also conduct qualitative studies to capture experiences and use quantitative approaches to focus heavily on assessment. 

Through conversations with nail salon employees, Rosemberg and Le found that continuing education and updates on new products would be beneficial, as well as continuing communication with key stakeholders. To help, they provide educational materials and online training programs. The MHSNC also uses social media and their website to provide important information and publications. 

“We would love everyone to know about this research and these resources. There’s a good chance that everyone knows someone who gets their nails done. It’s become a huge part of our beauty culture,” Le says. “However, again, the workers that provide these services are often invisible and the hazards they face are unknown or overlooked.”

MHSNC operates on three pillars: education, advocacy, and research. Le and Rosemberg emphasize that people should continue to support and visit nail salons, but to be educated consumers and pay attention to the state of the salons. Learn more on the MHSNC website.