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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Aerosols, Other Emissions Make Beauty Trades Hazardous

Women pour about $10 billion a year into beauty shops and salons in this country to make them look and smell better. Sitting or reclining in their chairs, they are worked on closely by tens of thousands of people who cut, shampoo and dye their hair and paint their faces and nails with designs and colors worthy of more than one fantasy. In buying hope and temporary regeneration, many women smell the amalgam of odors that fill these salons and, by the time they leave, are ready for some old-fashioned fresh air.
But day after day, the workers in these spray shops stay and are exposed to these aerosols and other emissions for almost 40 hours a week. One does riot think of the beauty trades as being places of hazardous work. Mines, factories, foundries, yes, but a place where you have your hair done or face made up? That’s the point — because expectations of workers, customers and the general public do not equate beauty shops with conditions hazardous to health, little has been done about a growing chemical menace.

Some recent developments indicate, however, that the cosmetic curtain covering some deplorable risks may be rising. First, the U.S. Court of Appeals (Third Circuit) has ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to extend its hazard communication standard beyond manufacturing firms to all sectors of the economy. This ruling means that OSHA will have to give workers the opportunity to find out what kind of chemicals and gases they are being exposed to in beauty (and barber) shops. When OSHA implements the court decision, both cosmetologists and barbers will have more information to determine what precautions need to be taken (for example, better ventilation systems) to protect themselves and their consumers. Presently, the more sensitive hairdressers will shield with a hand their customers’ eyes while spraying. In the future, equipped with the alarming results of numerous studies, this ‘protection’ will be seen as primitive indeed.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents many employees in the beauty trades, recently wrote Secretary of Labor, William F. Brock, urging him to get OSHA to give these workers this right to know. The letter states that “toxic chemicals are contained in a wide variety of products, including hair dyes, shampoos, hair conditioners, hair relaxers, permanent wave solutions, aerosol sprays, artificial nail applications and nail polishes.”

William H. Wynn, the union president who sent the missive to Brock, drew on the scientific literature to become quite specific: “Methylene chloride, known to cause cancer in animals, is a commoningredient in many hair sprays. Formaldehyde, a suspect human carcinogen, is used as a preservative in thousands of shampoos and cosmetic products. Sculptured nail applications often contain the toxin, ethyl methacrylate, which can cause neurological damage. Several ingredients in hair dyes have been linked to cancer in laboratory animals. Other cosmetic products used in salons, such as permanent waving products and hair straighteners contain extremely caustic ingredients that must be used with great care.”

While the incubation period for cancer is often twenty or more year, studies are already showing higher risks for exposed beauty trades workers than for the general population. Two studies, published in the medical literature, found beauticians at a higher risk for cancer of the uterus and ovary and breast, digestive and respiratory cancer. A Japanese study found female hairdressers more likely to have miscarriages and premature deliveries.

The consumer movement has never been able to bring cosmetic hazards under regulatory control. Despite several Congressional hearings in the Sixties and Seventies, industry lobbying prevented any statute from being enacted. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no authority to require premarket testing for the safety of cosmetics. Nor can the FDA require that the cosmetic manufacturers provide it with data so that the agency can conduct its own tests. What’s more the manufacturers are not obligated to list for the operators of beauty salons what ingredients are in the wholesale packages they sell to them.

Obviously, with more exotic chemicals being used in a fast proliferating number of beauty products, the call for health and safety must be louder. If you desire not be to exposed to the compulsory consumption of these mists and fumes, demand action from Secretary of Labor Brock, Washington, D.C. and write to the Food and Drug Administration for the ingredient safety information you seek. That’ll stir up the bureaucrats and get them thinking that there is an arousal out there in America.