San Francisco’s Nail Salons Go Green

Amie Newman

San Francisco has taken an important step to "green" the city's nail salons and improving the health and working conditions salon workers.

San Francisco is the first in the country to pass an ordinance regulating the use of toxic chemicals in nail polishes, used in nails salons. It’s good news for customers, of course. But it’s better news for the 1800 women who work many hours in the 200 salons, many of whom are of Vietnamese descent, notes the Ms. Foundation’s blog Igniting Change. 

The New York Times reports:

“Under the ordinance, the city will publicly identify establishments that use polishes (including top and base coats) free of the chemicals toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde — the so-called toxic trio. The three are on the hit list of the California Safe Cosmetics Act as causing cancer or birth defects.”

Of the ordinance, the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative (a key player in fighting for healthier working conditions for salon workers across the state) says:

Appreciate our work?

Rewire is a non-profit independent media publication. Your tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.


“Many workers experience negative health impacts due to the chemicals in nail products they work with on a daily basis. A goal of the ordinance is to reduce negative reproductive and other health impacts of long-term exposure to toxic chemicals for nail salon workers.”

The collaborative is comprised of a diverse group of women’s health and rights organization, many of whom focus on Asian women’s health including Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Asian Immigrant Workers Advocates. Other groups include Planned Parenthood, Women’s Voice for the Earth, and the Center for Environmental Health.

Vietnamese nail salon workers make up anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of all of those who work in nail salons around the country, reports the New York Times – and many of those are young, immigrant women. They are women who spend long days in small, poorly ventilated spaces hunched over nail polishes and solvents known or suspected to cause cancers.

It’s why the CHNSC is also pushing support for the Federal Safe Cosmetics Act – to protect workers  around the country from the unsafe chemicals found in nail polishes and other tools of the trade.

To learn more, you can view the Brave New Foundation film on the issue:

Load More