Characterizing Occupational Health Risks and Chemical Exposures Among Asian Nail Salon Workers on the East Coast of the United States

  • Grace X. MaEmail author
  • Zhengyu Wei
  • Rosy Husni
  • Phuong Do
  • Kathy Zhou
  • Joanne Rhee
  • Yin Tan
  • Khursheed Navder
  • Ming-Chin Yeh
Original Paper


The products used in nail care services contain toxic chemicals. This study aimed to characterize occupational health risk factors and chemical exposures among Asian nail salon workers on the East Coast of the U.S. for informing the development of more effective, culturally appropriate interventions. We conducted a community-based participatory research (CBPR) study to characterize occupational health risks. A face-to-face, self-reported survey was performed, and personal exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) was evaluated. Three VOCs, acetone, methyl methacrylate (MMA), and toluene, were measured using 3M 3500 organic vapor monitors. We collected data on 112 workers with 100 personal chemical exposure measurements from 25 nail salons. Self-reported health problems that emerged or worsened after participants started working in the nail salon industry included headaches (8%); lightheadedness (9.8%); and irritation to the nose, eyes, throat, and skin (21.2%). Approximately 70% of participants reported that they had been pregnant, 11.7% of whom had at least one miscarriage. The mean concentrations of acetone, MMA, and toluene were 18.51 parts per million (ppm), 39.45 ppm, and 0.09 ppm, respectively. Mean concentrations of acetone and MMA measured from salons in New York City were significantly lower than those measured in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey. CBPR proved to be as an efficient approach for recruiting hard-to-reach Asian immigrant nail salon workers. Adverse health symptoms and problems associated with providing nail salon services were identified in these workers. Further studies are needed to better understand the long-term health effects of chronic chemical exposures in nail salon environments.


Nail salon Chemical exposure Health risks Health disparities 



This research was supported by faculty research funds, Temple University (PI: Grace X. Ma, PhD). The authors wish to thank the nail salon partners, volunteers, and Asian community coordinators. We thank Dr. Yin Tan at Center for Asian Health, Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Temple University for help in data analysis and manuscript review. The project was also partially supported by TUFCCC/HC Regional Comprehensive Cancer Health Disparity Partnership, Award Number U54 CA221704(5) (Contact PIs: Grace X. Ma, PhD and Olorunseun O. Ogunwobi, MD, PhD) from the National Cancer Institute of National Institutes of Health (NCI/NIH). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NCI/NIH.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Asian Health, Lewis Katz School of MedicineTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Clinical Sciences, Lewis Katz School of MedicineTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Hunter CollegeThe City University of New York (CUNY)New YorkUSA

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