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

Grace X. Ma, Zhengyu Wei, Rosy Husni, Phuong Do, Kathy Zhou, Joanne Rhee, Yin Tan, Khursheed Navder, Ming Chin Yeh

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22 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1168-1179
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Community Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Chemical exposure
  • Health disparities
  • Health risks
  • Nail salon


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