Beauty salon workers who paint the nails and treat the hair of millions of Californians are regularly exposed to toxic chemicals — and they may not know it, advocates say.
The advocates are asking California lawmakers to approve legislation requiring cosmetic companies to list the ingredients of beauty products used in professional salons. The bill, which passed the Assembly health committee Tuesday, will next be heard by the environmental safety committee.
Ingredient labels are now required on retail beauty products like makeup or shampoo, but federal law on labeling doesn’t apply to cosmetic products such as hair-straightening treatments or nail polishes used in salons.
In addition to requiring a list of ingredients on the salon product, the Assembly bill would require the label to flag any hazardous chemicals. The manufacturer would also be required to print its website address on the product and list its ingredients on the site.
“Nobody’s minding the store” when it comes to protecting the health of the workers who handle these products every day, said Nourbese Flint, policy director for Los Angeles-based Black Women for Wellness, an advocacy organization that is co-sponsoring the bill.
“Hair stylists in black beauty salons are some of the backbones of the black community in terms of economic entrepreneurship,” said Flint. More transparency about salon product ingredients would help the cosmetologists “make better, healthier choices for their bodies and their clients.”
A cosmetics industry trade group, the Personal Care Products Council, opposes the bill. During the hearing in the Assembly health committee, Tom Myers, general counsel for the group, said the bill is unnecessary because the industry already sends out safety information to salons.
The council also opposes the measure because it would impose “unworkable, state-specific labeling requirements on global brands,” according to a legislative analysis.
Nail care products such as artificial nails and polishes contain chemicals like formaldehyde, which is a probable carcinogen, and toluene, which has been shown to cause birth defects when inhaled by pregnant women.
A 2015 study looking at birth outcomes among California cosmetologists and manicurists found that, overall, these workers had a higher rate of gestational diabetes, and babies born to Vietnamese manicurists were smaller than those born in the general population.
Hair-straightening treatments such as the Brazilian Blowout have been known to contain formaldehyde. The U.S. Department of Labor found that workers using such products in one beauty salon were exposed to as much as five times the accepted limits of exposure to formaldehyde.
Dr. Thu Quach, a researcher at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, says informing workers of potential risks is especially important given their level of exposure to salon products. Beauty salon workers may absorb chemicals both through their skin and the air they breathe, Quach said. A cosmetologist could apply a chemical-laden treatment to customers 10 times a day, or work in a space where chemicals are recirculating in the air all day, she added.
“Workers are exposed at much higher levels, so why would they not have the same right as consumers to know what they’re being exposed to?” said Quach, who is also a Steering Committee member of the California Health Nail Salon Collaborative, a co-sponsor of the bill.
Supporters hope new labeling requirements on salon products would pressure manufacturers to change the chemical formulations in their products.