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In a First, Calif. Bill Would Address Salon Worker Exposures To Toxic Chemicals in Beauty Products

Policy Analysis
Thursday, August 16, 2018

Hairdressers, nail technicians and other beauty salon workers face some of the greatest occupational exposures to toxic chemicals. A bill moving through the California Legislature would be the first in the nation to provide salon workers with the information about ingredients in the products they use daily.

The bill, by Assembly Member Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, would require professional cosmetics products used in California salons to disclose their ingredients on the label. It passed the Assembly unanimously in May, and was approved Thursday in a unanimous bipartisan vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee. It will now go to a vote by the full Senate. 

For more than 15 years, EWG has advocated for safer cosmetics and beauty products. We developed our Skin Deep® database to help shoppers find products that don’t contain hazardous chemicals. In 2011, a headline-making EWG report on the hazards of formaldehyde-based hair straightening treatments, including the popular brand Brazilian Blowout, called attention to the increased risk posed to salon workers who apply the product. During application, these hair straighteners and other products commonly used in salons emit toxic fumes, which can build up in the air and pose a significant health hazard to salon workers and their clients.

The federal Food and Drug Administration requires disclosure of ingredients for cosmetics and personal care products sold directly to consumers, but not for professional-use products. Typically, beauty salon workers and managers have no way of knowing what ingredients are in the products they use each day or if these ingredients could be harming their health.

Most salon workers are women of child-bearing age and therefore more vulnerable to the effects of harmful chemicals. They are also most often women of color, who are disproportionately exposed to toxics in their air, food, and water every day. They routinely handle personal care products with ingredients of concern, often in workplaces with inadequate ventilation. Scientific studies and public health surveys have linked working in salons to reproductive harms such as infertility and spontaneous abortions, and also respiratory irritation and headaches.

In our push to promote safer conditions for workers and healthier options for consumers, EWG obtained FDA documents showing that salon personnel and clients have filed numerous “adverse event” reports after hair straightening sessions, including massive hair loss, neck and face rashes, blistered scalps, nosebleeds, bleeding gums and loss of taste and smell.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that these formaldehyde-based treatments are not safe for consumers or stylists, the FDA has yet to act to protect the public. With such a lack of government oversight and protection, manufacturers should be required to disclose the ingredients in their professional use products, so that salon workers and managers can make informed decisions.  

The California legislation is cosponsored by the Breast Cancer Prevention PartnersWomen’s Voices for the Earth, Black Women for Wellness and California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative and supported by over 40 organizations, including EWG. We’re hopeful of approval next week by the Senate. If Gov. Jerry Brown then signs it,  California will once again be a leader in protecting public health.

 

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