Too many nail salons don’t pay proper attention to ventilation, even though this is an important part of working safely. There is a range of things that nail professionals can do to improve the quality of their nail salon’s breathing air. The goal of all nail professionals should be to minimize inhalation exposure to potentially irritating or harmful substances.
Problems can develop when nail professionals don’t take steps to avoid excessive inhalation of dust or vapors. Taking the right steps will improve the salon environment for customers, and create a safer, more pleasant workplace for salon professionals. This is especially helpful for sensitive individuals. They can develop irritated eyes, nose, or throat, headaches, difficulty breathing, nervousness, or drowsiness. Each of these can be related to poor ventilation or ventilation that’s not appropriate for the services being performed in the salon.
Drowsiness at work might seem like it would not be related to poor ventilation, but it can be. We normally exhale carbon dioxide with every breath. When salon ventilation is poor, carbon dioxide levels can build up in the salon. This can make you feel tired and listless. Excessive carbon dioxide in the air can even lower your performance and negatively affect your decision-making skills. Poor ventilation allows product vapors and dust to accumulate, as well.
Just about every substance on Earth has both a safe and potentially unsafe level of exposure. Salon vapors and dust are no exception. In properly ventilated salons, vapors and dust are well within safe limits. Not all salons have proper ventilation. Some don’t understand the importance, or they may not understand the correct steps to take, or even where to begin. Some may be confused by misinformation about salon ventilation.
For instance, a common myth is that the safety of a nail product depends on how it smells. It is a mistake to believe that ventilation systems are solely for controlling strong odors. Odors are not the reason for ventilating, and the odor of a substance does not indicate whether it is safe or harmful. Dirty socks and baby diapers may not smell very good, but they aren’t harmful to breathe in nor are their odors dangerous. Fragrances smell wonderful, yet some people are sensitive to inhaling excessive amounts.
Some vapors have very little odor, yet they should also be controlled and kept at safe levels. That’s why it is important to have a good understanding of these issues and how to keep vapors and dust under control and within safe levels. Minimizing inhalation exposure is an important way to ensure that you are properly and safely handling nail salon products and that you are avoiding overexposure.
What is Product Overexposure? Nearly every substance on Earth has both a safe and potentially unsafe level of exposure. Injury may result if we exceed these safe levels repeatedly or for prolonged periods. Don’t ventilate to control odors; ventilate to control vapors and dust. That’s a great way to help avoid overexposure. It is especially important to control the air quality of your breathing zone. Everyone has a breathing zone; it’s an invisible sphere in front of your mouth that is about the size of a beach ball. Every breath you take comes from this zone. Using proper ventilation helps ensure the breathing zone is a source of high-quality air. To achieve this goal you should first focus on having a properly maintained HVAC system.
An HVAC system is the built-in, general salon ventilation and air-conditioning system. HVAC stands for “Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning”. An HVAC system is designed to exchange the air inside the salon with fresh air from the outside and to remove dust and pollen. These are highly effective at capturing dust and removing vapors when outfitted with replaceable activated carbon and “electrostatic” dust filtering panels. These absorbent filtering panels eventually become saturated, making them ineffective, and therefore we must replace them three to four times per year.
We must properly maintain and clean all HVAC ventilation systems on a regular basis so it is best to work with a local HVAC specialist. These skilled professionals can diagnose the salon’s air quality and ventilation systems and provide useful solutions and advice that will keep the system working at its peak capacity. Next, you should focus on protecting your breathing zone by using a source capture ventilation system. These systems capture vapors and dust particles right at the source and then extract them from the breathing zone. Once the vapors and dust are captured, they should be passed through a multi-stage filtration system. This system should have HEPA filters, which are pre-filters designed to remove dust.
Some activated charcoal air cleaner devices utilize a dust pre-filter that is machine washable or replaceable. The system should have a separate, second-stage filter that contains a minimum of 2 lbs. (1 kg) of activated carbon. Typically, such a filter will be at least 2 inches thick (5 cm). The thicker the activated carbon bed, the more vapors it will remove. Thicker is better and will last longer before needing to be replaced.
The opposite is also true, if these filters are too thin, they are practically useless. My advice is to avoid any ventilation systems with little or no activated carbon e.g. those with flimsy carbon filters less than a ½ thick or 1.25 centimeters. Why? The vapors pass through the filter much too quickly to be absorbed and the majority of the vapors are just blown back into the salon. These types of devices work like a fan, they merely blow the vapors away to other parts of the salon. This does reduce the odor at the nail table but that’s not the goal; cleaning the salon air and removing vapors and dust is the goal.
Devices with thin carbon filters aren’t ventilation; they are a form of “circulation”. These devices fool many into thinking they are absorbing vapors when they are not. They are just redistributing the vapors in the salon so everyone can breathe them equally. I don’t recommend wasting your money on an ineffective ventilation system. Using a ventilation device that doesn’t work well is like putting a screen door on a submarine. What good is it doing other than giving you a false sense of security? When properly designed and correctly used, source capture systems protect the salon air and the breathing zone. They are the most effective way to prevent excessive inhalation of dust and/or vapors. Source capture systems that return filtered air into the salon can work very well if properly maintained, e.g. filters changed as directed.
Even so, when practical, always directly ventilate air to the outside. If you can do this, it will be less expensive in the long run since you will not need to purchase replacement air filters. Secondly, I recommend also using a “professional” HEPA room air cleaner, but not as a replacement for a source capture system. Instead, a stand-alone salon HEPA room air cleaner can be an extra step to help further clean the salon’s air. Avoid air cleaners designed for “home use”. They remove pollen, cigarette smoke, etc., and are not suitable for salon use. Use a professional quality air cleaner designed for salons that utilize HEPA filters and a thick carbon bed. Keep your nail salon’s breathing air as clean as possible.
I don’t recommend using ANY air cleaners that produce even tiny amounts of ozone, even as in the parts-per-billion (ppb) concentration range. They “neutralize odors”, but do not remove vapors or dust. Ozone is a hazardous air contaminant, even at very low concentrations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned all consumers against using air cleaners that release ozone due to the health risks they create. These devices sometimes cause watery eyes, runny nose, coughing, chest tightness, metallic tastes in the mouth, shortness of breath, and blurred vision. These are not effective for controlling dust or vapors in salons. Both healthy people and those with respiratory difficulty can have breathing problems when exposed to even relatively low levels of ozone, for example, more than 40 parts per billion (ppb). Other helpful tips are:
-Use trash cans with a self-closing lid and place one at every work table.
-Empty trash cans several times per day and change liners daily.
-Properly ventilate the storage area where you are keeping your professional products.
-Keep all product containers tightly closed when not in use.
-Perform all salon work in a well-ventilated area.
One of my many responsibilities as Co-Chair of the Nail Manufacturer’s Council on Safety (NMC) is to work with other nail industry scientists and experts to create informational brochures that help nail professionals understand how to work more safely with professional nail products. I worked with a team of NMC and ventilation industry experts to create a significant new update to an existing NMC brochure. The brochure is titled “Guidelines for Controlling and Minimizing Inhalation Exposure to Nail Products“. Give yourself the peace of mind that comes with having the right information. You’ll make wiser choices if you do.