On a recent shopping trip with my family, I walked past a nail salon and nonchalantly looked inside. There, sitting on her mother’s lap, was a tiny little newborn dressed in pink. The mother was having a pedicure. Her newborn looked no more than a few weeks old.  And I could smell the chemicals in the air from the nail polish.

Nail salons and infants

Nail salons fall into a gray area for pregnant women. The chemicals used in the salon can give off potentially dangerous fumes that, when inhaled, can cause headaches, dizziness, and, in some cases, asthma-like symptoms. It is best to avoid nail salons before, during, and after pregnancy to protect the fetus and the baby from these chemicals. Large salons with fantastic ventilation systems can be potentially safe, but few salons fall into this category. If possible, pregnant women should make an early morning appointment, sit next to the door, and/or wear a mask to prevent inhalation of airborne chemicals. 

The general rule is that if you can smell a chemical in the air, no matter how well "ventilaled" the room is, then it's not safe for you and the baby.

Protecting your baby after birth

Pregnant women ask all the time how to protect the fetus from airborne chemical exposure in nail salons, but what about the newborn? This was the first time I’d ever seen a small infant in a salon of this size. The entire building couldn’t have been any more than 500 square feet and I passed the salon around 4 PM – the end of the day after hours of manicures, artificial nails, and pedicures. The baby was not protected in any way and the smell of the chemicals was bleeding out the front door to the sidewalk. 

According to OSHA products used in nail salons can contain many chemicals that can have serious health effects.

Some potentially hazardous chemicals, the types of products they can be found in, and how they can affect a worker include:

  • Acetone (nail polish remover): headaches; dizziness; and irritated eyes, skin, and throat.
  • Acetonitrile (fingernail glue remover): irritated nose and throat; breathing problems; nausea; vomiting; weakness; and exhaustion.
  • Butyl acetate (nail polish, nail polish remover): headaches and irritated eyes, skin, nose, mouth, and throat
  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), (nail polish): nausea and irritated eyes, skin, nose, mouth, and throat. Long-term exposures to high concentrations may cause other serious effects.
  • Ethyl acetate (nail polish, nail polish remover, fingernail glue): irritated eyes, stomach, skin, nose, mouth, and throat; high levels can cause fainting.
  • Ethyl methacrylate (EMA), (artificial nail liquid): asthma; irritated eyes, skin, nose, and mouth; difficulty concentrating. Exposures while pregnant may affect your child.
  • Formaldehyde (nail polish, nail hardener): difficulty breathing, including coughing, asthma-like attacks, and wheezing; allergic reactions; irritated eyes, skin, and throat. Formaldehyde can cause cancer.
  • Isopropyl acetate (nail polish, nail polish remover): sleepiness, and irritated eyes, nose, and throat.
  • Methacrylic acid (nail primer): skin burns and irritated eyes, skin, nose, mouth, and throat. At higher concentrations, this chemical can cause difficulty breathing.
  • Methyl methacrylate (MMA), (artificial nail products, though banned for use in many states): asthma; irritated eyes, skin, nose, and mouth; difficulty concentrating; loss of smell.
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds (disinfectants): irritated skin and nose and may cause asthma.
  • Toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate are sometimes referred to in the industry as the "toxic trio".

Toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate are sometimes referred to in the industry as the "toxic trio".

Dangerous chemicals in the air

Nail salons are not safe for newborns or infants of any age, especially late in the day when fumes are almost overpowering to the adult nose. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are more than 10 dangerous chemicals floating around in the air of your nail salon. Some of these chemicals can cause nausea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing; others are associated with birth defects in pregnant women. 

You have the right to take some time to yourself as a new mother, but the nail salon is not the place for a newborn. The chemical fumes and particulates floating in the air can cause dangerous reactions in adults, let alone immature newborn lungs.  

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