April 2011

Jaime Schrabeck

The Nail Extension | by Jaime Schrabeck


Being Green: What Does it Mean?

Judging by the increasing number of salons marketed as "natural," "organic" and "eco-friendly," there is a pressure for salons to appear "green."

My salon appears green; I painted both the exterior and interior beautiful, complimentary shades of the color.

Besides being facetious, my question is an honest quest for meaning; what exactly does "being green" mean in the context of a nail salon? I struggle with the entire concept.

While the intent may be admirable (protecting the environment, conserving resources, preserving health, etc.), this concept has been distorted and abused through misinformation and fear mongering.

Nowadays, more than ever, clients ask questions like, "Is your polish toxic?" Some manufacturers go so far as to promote their products as "chemical-free." How do we, as nail professionals differentiate fact from fiction?

How do we reconcile our responsibility to protect our clients with a desire to protect the environment?

Lacking a definitive standard based on empirical evidence, the concept of being green deserves careful consideration. This requires knowledge beyond the basic education and training most manicurists receive.

Here is the scientific expertise of three of the nail industry's most respected chemists, Paul Bryson, Ph.D., Jim McConnell and Doug Schoon: 

All three experts agree that first the manicurist's need to understand the structure and function of nails. In brief, Doug Schoon advises, "Be a knowledgeable professional."

Although beauty school would be the obvious and ideal place to learn this information, that apparently does not happen for many students. As Schoon points out, "Most nail techs can't even name the parts of the nail. How can you address concerns when you don't understand the basics?"

"Furthermore, manicurists need to educate themselves on the products they use," emphasizes McConnell. Professional nail products contain chemicals that are proven safe when used according to manufacturer instructions. That being said, you should never ingest nail products, rub them into your eyes or otherwise use them inappropriately.

Any manufacturer claiming that its products do not contain chemicals is simply being dishonest. Bryson reminds us of basic science, "It's impossible to make a product that is chemical free, since everything around us -- water, air, plants, food, etc. -- is composed of chemicals." Likewise, any manufacturer claiming better / safer products due to being manufactured from some unlikely, yet more natural ingredients cannot be trusted. McConnell expresses his frustration when mentioning a UV gel product supposedly made from seaweed.

Despite decades of safe use, nail products still raise safety concerns, leading to questions like "What's the most dangerous chemical used in nail salons?" Acetone is a common response. However, according to McConnell and contrary to what many manicurists and consumers believe, "Acetone is one of the safest solvents that we can work with in the salon."

Bryson describes acetone emphatically as "the safest and greenest polish remover. All the acetone substitutes either produce more photochemical smog, and / or are more hazardous. Non-acetone polish remover has long been dishonestly marketed as a safer product, but in fact the reverse is true."

Bryson singles out methyl acetate as "the only non-acetone polish remover solvent still legal in California," but warns that it "could cause death or permanent blindness if a child drank it. The few companies that sell it use a bitter tasting additive to prevent accidental ingestion."

What is the truth about formaldehyde in nail polish? Schoon addresses this controversial chemical in a must-read article, The Formaldehyde Myth (available at www.schoonscientific.com). "Formaldehyde is not a cosmetic ingredient and never has been," he states.

Bryson acknowledges the understandable confusion about formaldehyde: "one of the main resins in nail polish is called tosylamide-formaldehyde resin, which despite the name, is not the same chemical as formaldehyde. Specialty nail hardeners are another story -- they contain a small, US FDA-permitted amount of a non-volatile, reaction product of formaldehyde and water -- more properly known as methylene glycol -- or they will not work. Confusingly, until recently, this substance had to be called formaldehyde on the label, which wrought much customer confusion as they wrongly assumed that nail hardeners posed a cancer risk."

Schoon further cautions our clients and us against thinking in terms of what is most dangerous. "If you remove an ingredient, then the next one on the list becomes the most, until you have no chemicals to list. It is more important to ask, what should we do in nail salons to ensure that all products are used safely?"

The following suggestions will help you create a healthier salon environment:

For more information about nails, nail products and salon safety, read Doug Schoon's book, Nail Structure and Product Chemistry, Second Edition (Milady, 2005) and visit the website, www.schoonscientific.com for relevant articles and publications from the Nail Manufacturers Council.

Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D. owns Precision Nails, an exclusive nails-only salon in Carmel, California. She can be reached at info@precisionnails.com.