There are many health risks associated with the beauty industry due to the chemicals found in the products. We are all affected by these chemicals every time we go to the beauty salon. Many of the products found in these salons are classified as hazardous and extreme caution should be taken into consideration when using these products. They’re made for professional use only; therefore, users must be trained and certified to be handling these products. A proper ventilation system needs to be in place at all salons for the safety of everyone entering the salon and / or exposed to the hazardous chemicals in the products.

Some common side effects of some of the products include (but not limited to) dermatitis, asthma, and eye and throat irritation. Hazardous chemicals can enter the body by swallowing, inhaling, and through the skin. The severity of reactions depends on the length and frequency of exposure to these products, the toxicity of the substance, and the route of entry into the body.

Examples of salon products containing hazardous substances:

Hair dyes, bleaches, permanent wave solutions, shampoos, hair styling agents, brow and lash tints, chemical peels, peroxides, wax solvents, disinfectants, cleaning products, keratin treatments, nail enamels and hardeners, nail polish removers and solvents, nail tips and wraps, acrylic and gel nail systems.

Examples of Hazardous Chemicals:

Formaldehyde: Also known as methanal, methyl aldehyde or methylene oxide, causes neurotoxicity and allergic reactions. Irritations to the eyes, nose, throat, skin, and respiratory tracks are common symptoms. 

Based on the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) standards, the permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 0.75 parts per million (ppm).
Based on National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) standards, the recommended exposure limit (REL) is 0.016 ppm 

Methyl Methacrylate (MMA) & Ethyl Methacrylate (EMA): Irritates the eyes, mucous membrane, and respiratory tract and is highly toxic. 

Based on OSHA standards, the PEL for MMA is 100 ppm and not yet determined for EMA.
Based on NIOSH standards, the REL for MMA is 100 ppm and not yet determined for EMA. 

Dibutyle Phthalate: Commonly found in synthetic fragrances and some plastics. It will cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and lungs and irritation to the eyes, stomach and upper respiratory system. 

Based on OSHA standards, the PEL for dibutyle phthalates is 5 mg / m3.
Based on NIOSH standards, the REL for dibutyle phthalates is 5 mg / m3

Solvents (Acetone, Methyl Ethyl Ketone, Xylene, and Toluene): Causes headaches, nausea, dizziness, and irritability. 

Based on OSHA standards, the PEL for acetone is 1,000 ppm, 200 ppm for methyle ethyl ketone and toluene, and 100 ppm for xylene.
Based on NIOSH standards, the REL for acetone is 250 ppm, 200 ppm for methyle ethyl ketone, and 100 ppm for toluene and xylene. 

Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethylamine (TEA): Used as foaming agents, synthetic emulsifiers. They are HIGHLY acidic and cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and dryness of hair and skin. DEA and TEA are ammonia compounds, which are potent carcinogens, can also strip away vital amino acids. 

Based on OSHA standards, the PEL for DEA is not determined and TEA is 25 ppm.
Based on NIOSH standards, the REL for DEA is 3 ppm and TEA is 10 ppm. 

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate / Sodium Laureth Sulfate: Found in the majority of shampoos, to create lather and bubbles. These sulfates are generally derived from petroleum which causes eye and scalp irritation and tangled hair. 

The PEL & REL has not yet been determined by the OSHA and NIOSH standards. 

Paraben (methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl): Found in shampoos, commercial moisturizers, shaving gels, spray tanning solutioins, makeup and toothpaste to prolong their shelf life. Paraben are estrogenic which are disruptive of normal hormone function; exposure has been linked to breast cancer and cause skin and allergic reactions. 

The PEL & REL has not yet been determined by the OSHA and NIOSH standards. 

Naphtha: Also known as coal tar are used in synthetic colors and dyes to make products pretty. However, they heavy metal salts that deposit toxins onto the skin which causes irritation and are carcinogenic. Irritations to the eyes, skin, and nose, dizziness, drowsiness, and dermatitis are common symptoms. 

Based on OSHA standards, the PEL for naphtha is 100 ppm.
Based on NIOSH standards, the REL for naphtha is 100 ppm. 

Propylene Glycol: Also known as propylene glycol dinitrate is a synthetic petrochemical used as an emulsifying base in lotions and creams (to make the skin look smooth). Propylene Glycol actually ages the skin at a faster rate, also leads to poor, saggy skin through absorption. It is a MAJOR ingredient in brake and hydraulic fluids which causes an allergic reaction and damages to the kidneys and liver. 

Based on OSHA standards, the PEL for propylene gylcol is not determined.
Based on NIOSH standards, the REL for propylene gylcol is 0.05 ppm. 

Mineral Oil: Also known as oil mist is petroleum based oil which enlarges and clogs the skins pores, can also cause acne, poor/saggy skin. Mineral oil decreases the skin cell’s ability to exchange nutrients and waste products. Irritations to the eyes, skin and respiratory system are common symptoms. 

Based on OSHA standards, the PEL for mineral oil is 5 mg / m3.
Based on NIOSH standards, the REL for mineral oil is 5 mg / m3.

It is extremely important to have a proper ventilation system in place. Some salons may have outdated systems or none at all. Natural ventilation generally does not provide sufficient air flow to be suitable for controlling airborne contaminants. Having proper ventilation system will provide a continuous supply of fresh outside air, maintain the temperature and relative humidity level, reduce explosion hazards, and reduce or  remove airborne contaminants. There are two types of ventilation systems, dilution ventilation and local exhaust, are explained below.

Dilution ventilation system effectively is effective for small dispersed contaminant sources. It dilutes contaminated air by blowing in clean air and exhausting some dirty air. It doesn’t completely remove contaminants and is not used for highly toxic chemicals.

Local exhaust ventilation system removes airborne contaminants at the source before they can be breathed in.  It captures contaminate emissions at or very near the source and exhausts them outside.

Although having proper ventilation system is very important for the health and safety of people entering or exposed to the salon, it can be extremely expensive to have the system on 24 / 7. A simple solution to this would be to install fixed gas detectors in rooms where the products are being stored and / or used. Therefore, when the level of gas emitted from the product is at a pre-set level, the ventilation system will automatically turn on to dilute or exhaust the air.

For suggestions on fixed or portable gas detectors, please visit

Written by: Ambur Vilac & Teresa Kouch


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