Is your Lagos salon toxic?


A few months ago, I saw an interesting article in The Guardian. It stated that a recent study conducted by Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADev Nigeria) and the Developing World Outreach Initiatives (DWOI), USA indicated that dangerous toxic chemicals are in use in several Lagos salons. According to the article, the team evaluated 29 beauty salons in the 20 local government areas in Lagos. They found that all the salons use products that contain toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate. These substances are known as the ‘Toxic Trio’ or the ‘Big 3’.



A little about the Toxic Trio


Toluene can be used for many processes. It can be used as a solvent, to extract hemoglobin from red blood cells, and as a coolant. It helps to keep nail polish smooth after application. Breathing toluene can cause headaches, confusion, nausea and unconsciousness.

Inhalation of toluene in low to moderate levels can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite, hearing loss, and color vision loss


Formaldehyde has several uses such as a disinfectant, tissue fixative, embalming agent. If you ever dissected a frog or pig in school, it was probably preserved with a formaldehyde solution. It is commonly used in nail polishes as a nail hardener. There are ingredients that release formaldehyde and they help to preserve products. In 2004, the Internationational Agency for Research on Cancer classified formaldehyde as a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)

Dibutyl phthalate is added to nail polish to help prevent chipping. The United States and the European Union have banned this substance in cosmetics. DBP is suspected to interfere with the endocrine system. This can affect hormone regulation and may lead to tumors and developmental defects.

Prolonged Exposure to these substances can have detrimental effects. Last year, The New York Times published an article about nail workers and affects of exposure to toxic chemicals. Many of the people featured had various health problems from miscarriages to cancer. Many of them were fighting to get government regulation for prolonged exposure.


What can you do?

There are several detailed resources, including OSHA and Women’s Voices, about how to minimize your exposure to these chemicals. Here are some highlights.

Salon Patrons

  • Insist your stylist uses non-toxic products. There are nail polishes, removers, and thinners that are free of toxic substances.
  • Stay close to a window or an area where your can get proper ventilation.

Salon Workers

  • Use less toxic products in the salon. (3-free, formaldehyde-free, pump sprays vs. aerosols.)
  • Use thick gloves (nitrile or neoprene) to protect skin
  • If necessary, use a mask designed to filter volatile compounds. Surgical masks do not fit this category.
  • Properly handle, store and dispose of the products

Salon Owners

  • Keep your salon adequately ventilated
  • Stock the salon with less toxic products and proper protective gear
  • Reduce the time the employees are exposed

Issues with the data

When I heard about the study, I went in search of additional information. I found this document from American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) which goes into further detail about the study. I noticed that the sample size of the salons evaluated was quite small (29). For all the local governments in Lagos, this averages to about 1.5 salons per LGA.

The data collection was done by a survey and an observational checklist. The data showed that most of the salons had poor practices and some occupational hazards. I would have liked to see an evaluation of the air quality in the salon to get a better idea of the substances salon workers and patrons are exposed to.

Do you work in a salon? How do you minimize your exposure to harmful chemicals?

Image sources: Pixabay