Green News & Events

Got Polish? @NYGovCuomo Targets #Toxic Nail Salons

It must have been a busy weekend in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office: After the New York Times detailed the toxic and unfair work environments facing nail salon workers in Friday’s paper, on Monday the governor’s office announced “emergency measures” to remedy the situation.

The situation shines a spotlight on our broken toxic chemical regulatory system. Because they are considered “trade secrets,” personal care manufacturers are not required to share information with the FDA; the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel is supposed to review ingredient safety.

Yet the panel has assessed just a few since the board was created in 1976, including nail polish ingredients formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate, all three of which were determined to be safe, despite the fact that they have been linked to human health problems including cancer, miscarriages and birth defects. This might have something to do with the fact that the CIR is financed by the Personal Care Products Council itself.

In 2005, when California lawmakers tried to restrict DBP–banned in the European Union–from nail polish, lobbyists “flooded the State Capitol…bearing gift baskets of lipstick and nail polish” and managed to kill the bill, according to the New York Times.  Even so, many nail product manufacturers have voluntarily removed the “big three” from polishes; there is even a “healthy nail salon” project in California urging owners to carry less-toxic polishes and to ventilate their salons.

So it might take some major news backing–and a social media conscious governor–to grow awareness on a national level, starting with one powerful state: According to Cuomo’s camp, as of today a new multiagency task force will assess all the nail salons in New York.


  • Ginny Cardenas

    Great post Rachel. Agree with everything you wrote. I’m thrilled to see the spotlight finally being shed on this industry. I hope the focus remains on both issues: wages AND the nasty chemicals the salon workers are exposed to on a daily basis for hours at a time.

    Removing the “big three” chemicals is a good step but it’s far from ideal. In most cases those “big three” have been replaced with just as nasty ingredients. AND not to mention the other harmful ingredients that still aren’t being addressed.

    Speaking of “big three” or what is labeled now as “3 free” polishes- I’m not so confident you aren’t being exposed to those ingredients in a salon. If nail products that are being applied to you in the salon are labeled for “professional use” a list of ingredients does not need to be listed. If workers in these salons are not even made aware of the chemicals they could be exposing themselves to how are they to protect themselves. How do you protect yourself? BYOB – bring your own bottle.

    “Cosmetics sold on a retail basis to consumers also must bear an ingredient declaration, with the names of the ingredients listed in descending order of predominance. The requirement for an ingredient declaration does not apply, for example, to products used at professional establishments or samples distributed free of charge.” Read more here from the FDA:

    I hope this isn’t a story that will fade away too soon. There are people in the trenches, including myself and my team who have been working hard the past five years to change one part of this equation: safer nail products. We really shouldn’t have to worry about the ingredients lurking in our polishes.

    Ginny Cardenas
    Scotch Naturals and Hopscotch Kids

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      Yes, so agree Ginny! And thank you for being in the trenches and REALLY innovating to bring better polish to market. I am a HUGE fan of Scotch and Hopscotch!!!

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