Back to Basics, Chemicals, Personnel Safety

Back to Basics: Nail Technician Safety

Back to Basics is a weekly feature that highlights important but possibly overlooked information that any EHS professional should know. This week, we examine nail technician safety and OSHA’s recommendations for dealing with nail salon hazards.

EHS covers all kinds of workplaces and expands into industries where many might not consider the potential safety concerns at first glance. Nail salons are businesses that employ or contract with trained professionals to provide clients with nail services such as nail filing and polishing, artificial nail application, and other hand and foot care treatments.

According to OSHA, nail technicians face a wide variety of health hazards every day at work. They are exposed to chemicals found in glues, polishes, removers, emollients, and other salon products that can cause health issues such as asthma and other respiratory diseases, skin disorders, liver disease, reproductive loss, and cancer. Nail technicians also experience muscle strains from awkward positions and repetitive motions, and they have a high risk of contracting infections from the skin, nails, and blood of their clients.

OSHA has several recommendations for nail technicians to help keep them safe when dealing with these three main types of hazards: chemical, ergonomic, and biological hazards.


Nail technicians use products that contain chemicals that may affect their health every day at nail salons, including acetone, different kinds of acetate, and even formaldehyde, says OSHA. The chemicals produce harmful vapors, dusts, or mists, and workers are at risk of getting the products on their skin, in their eyes, and potentially ingesting the chemicals if they are transferred onto food. Exposure to these chemicals and inhalation of these fumes can “add up,” because the products are being used daily and many of them are used simultaneously. The risk is increased as well when nail technicians work long ours and when there is poor ventilation in the salon.

Employers should choose safer products for their workers to use and make sure that they read about the ingredients beforehand. They should select “3-free” products, which are made without toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate, and acid free products, and make sure that they know the potential health effects of each product.

Employers should provide proper ventilation in the salon to remove chemicals from the air as much as possible. This can be done by opening doors, windows, and ceiling vents to let in fresh air, and by always keeping the nail salon’s exhaust system on. If there is no exhaust system, the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system should be on and running. Many salons will not need respiratory protection, but if respirators are found to be necessary, such as N95s or dust masks, they must comply with OSHA’s respiratory protection standards.

Chemicals should be properly labelled in bottles with the information from the manufacturer’s label, and bottles should be closed tightly when they are not in use. Use only the amount of product needed to perform the service and avoid keeping extra product at each workstation. Make sure that workers follow the proper methods of disposal for each chemical and wash their hands before eating, drinking, applying cosmetics, and smoking. They should also avoid eating at their workstations and keep their food and drinks covered at all times.


There are several different kinds of movement and positions, also known as ergonomic hazards, that nail technicians have to do in order to provide their services. Nail technicians have to lean over worktables for a long time and do repetitive movements like filing and buffing nails. They have to rest their hands, wrists, forearms, and elbows against hard surfaces or sharp edges, which commonly causes injury to the workers’ muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and nerves, OSHA states.

To reduce ergonomic hazards, workers should use adjustable chairs that can be raised and lowered and give proper back support, and position their bodies so that their feet stay flat on the floor, they avoid sharp edges, and with enough room between the back of the knees and the seat to ensure proper blood flow. They should adjust the lighting to see and lift up the client’s hand or foot to avoid bending over. Towels or foam pads can be used to soften the work surface, and soft pads on tool handles can make them easier to hold. Workers should pace their work, take frequent breaks, and do gentle stretching exercises in between sessions to give their muscles and joints a chance to move.


Nail technicians must make physical contact with their clients to do their jobs, which opens the door to biological hazards such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. According to OSHA, nail technicians are at a higher risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) if they come into contact with blood, and fungal infections of the nails and feet if they touch an infected client or use equipment that has not been cleaned.

Employers must follow the OSHA standard for bloodborne pathogens if their workers are going to come into contact with blood or other potentially infectious material, and provide them with training, vaccination, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Works should avoid all contact with blood or bodily fluids, wear gloves, and avoid clients with cuts, open wounds, sores, blisters, or any visibly infected skin on their hands, feet, or nails. Disposable gloves must be thrown away after use, and workers must wash their hands with soap and water before and after working with clients.

All tools must be cleaned and disinfected after each client per each state’s cosmetology board policies, and workers need to wear cloves during this process.

  • Wash tools with soap and water, scrub if needed
  • Soak tools in an EPA-registered disinfectant for 10-30 minutes, according to manufacturer instructions
  • Rinse in clean water
  • Dry with a clean cloth
  • Store in a clean, covered area, and use ultraviolent sanitizing boxes to store reusable metal tools

Lastly, all foot basins and spas must be disinfected after each client and at the end of the day, per the guidelines of each state cosmetology board, to prevent exposure to workers and other clients.

For the full list of OSHA’s standards and recommendations for nail technician safety, click here.

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