Salon Safety Checklist

Quick Tips

  • Wash hands thoroughly before and after performing each service, before eating, and after handling products or if accidental skin exposure occurs.
  • Wear disposable nitrile gloves or the glove type recommended in the product MSDS.
  • Replace gloves immediately if there are signs of cuts, tears, holes or contamination.
  • Appropriate clothing can help prevent skin over-exposure to products while performing professional services. For example, fitted long sleeved blouses or smocks for arms/wrist protection and knee length pants or skirts to help protect the lap.
  • Keep products in small-sized containers at the worktable to reduce the risk of spills and minimize skin exposure.
  • When transferring products to smaller containers, wear the safety equipment recommended by the product MSDS, i.e. eye protection, gloves, etc.
  • Always use a funnel or dropper to prevent spills and accidental skin contact while transferring products from their original containers.
  • Avoid skin contact with disinfectants and never put them into the water with client’s feet or hands.
  • If there are visible signs of sensitivity or allergic reaction to a product, discontinue use immediately; if symptoms persist, consult with a physician.
  • Exactly follow the manufacturers’ product instructions and heed warnings, precautions, etc.
  • Read and understand the MSDS for each product you use to perform your service.
Salon Safety Most people believe chemicals are dangerous or toxic substances. Ask someone about chemicals and they might mention toxic waste dumps or factories dumping poisonous waste into streams. Actually, everything we see and touch is a chemical, except for light and electricity. Air is a combination of many chemicals; oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen.

Clean, pure mountain stream water is a chemical. A newborn baby's skin is 100% chemical. Why do people only think of chemicals in a negative way? It is because of the dramatized and exaggerated images created by the media. These images are misleading and inaccurate. The truth is, 99% of the chemicals we come in contact with in our lives are completely safe and beneficial.

Water is the most common salon chemical. Water can be very dangerous! In fact, it can kill you within minutes. Try sticking your head in a bucket full of water for 5 minutes. Foolish? Yes! Since we were very young, our parents taught us the potential hazards of water; it is dangerous to swim after a big meal or use a blow dryer in the bathtub, and not to drive fast on wet pavement.

We all learned the rules, and the same holds true for salon chemicals. There are 'safe working' rules we must follow, or we will suffer the consequences. Every chemical can be safe and every chemical can be dangerous -- it's up to you! No chemical in the world can be harmful unless you overexpose yourself. Every chemical substance has a safe and unsafe level of exposure. Simply touching, inhaling, or smelling a potentially hazardous substance can't harm you.

Exceeding the safe level of exposure is the danger we must learn to avoid! Some chemicals are dangerous even in tiny amounts and are not suited for salon use. Professional products are formulated to be as safe as possible, though no nail product or other cosmetic product is free from all risks. A normally safe product can become dangerous if used incorrectly. Even gardeners and mechanics must follow safe working procedures.

Reduce Your Exposure

Material Safety Data Sheets provide information to all chemical workers, including nail technicians. MSDS help firefighters deal with chemical fires or clean up large spills, and doctors to treat accidental poisonings. Any professional product that contains a potentially hazardous substance has an MSDS. What can you learn from an MSDS?

  • Potentially hazardous ingredients found in each product.
  • Proper storage and fire prevention.
  • Ways to prevent hazardous chemicals from entering the body.
  • The short and long-term health effects of overexposure.
  • Early warning signs of product overexposure.
  • Emergency first aid advice.
  • Emergency first aid advice.
  • Emergency first aid advice.
There are only three ways that a potentially hazardous chemical can enter the body. If you block these 'routes of entry', you will automatically lower your exposure.

  1. Inhalation by breathing vapors, mists, or dusts.
  2. Absorption through the skin or broken tissue.
  3. Unintentional or accidental ingestion.
The human body is very rugged and complex, giving early warning signs of overexposure. Unfortunately, these symptoms are often ignored. For instance, overexposure to some solvents can make you feel very tired or keep you from sleeping. Overexposure can cause headaches, nausea, angry or frustrated feelings, nosebleeds, coughs, dizziness, tingling fingers and toes, dry or scratchy nose and throat, puffy red and irritated skin, itching, and many other symptoms. Watching for these acute symptoms will help you avoid more serious, long-term problems.

Plan Ahead

  • Accidents happen when they are least expected. What would you do it a small child ran up to your table and drank from your bottle of primer? The MSDS will provide emergency numbers that may safe a life.
  • Keep products capped or covered when not in use. Empty waste containers regularly. Just because you don't smell anything doesn't mean there are no vapors in the air. Keeping products closed will drastically reduce the amount of vapors released by 'volatile' or evaporating liquids.
  • Avoid pressurized spray cans and use metal waste containers with pop-up lids. Surgical type masks (often called dust masks) are completely ineffective against vapors. These masks should only be used to keep dust particles out of your lungs.
  • Never use a dust mask to protect yourself from vapors. Vapors are far too small to be 'filtered' by dust masks. Use a mist mask if you spray anything. Some high-quality masks are also effective against mists. These are called mist-rated masks; however, they too are ineffective against vapors.
  • Always wear a dust mask when filing, especially if you use a drill. Our lungs can handle a lot of dusts because it has ways of removing and disposing of inhaled dusts. When you inhale more than the lungs can handle, you increase your risk. Drills make much smaller dust particles than files or emery boards. These smaller particles lodge deeper into the lungs, making them more hazardous to your health. Drills spin in a clock-wise direction and will actually 'throw' the dust in your face, and remain in your breathing-zone up to 60% longer than the dusts from hand filing. These smaller particles will settle on every surface and even the slightest breeze will send them back into your air.
  • Never judge product safety by odor. What is the most dangerous misconception about chemicals in the salon industry? Many believe that they can tell how safe or dangerous a chemical is simply by its odor! Wrong! A chemical's smell has absolutely nothing to do with its safety. Some of the most dangerous substances known have very sweet, pleasant fragrances.
  • Never smoke, eat or drink in the salon. Always store food away from salon chemicals and wash your hands before eating or going to the restroom. A cigarette lighter will produce a spark that may ignite flammable liquids and vapors. Coffee cups can easily collect dusts. Hot liquids, like coffee and tea, will absorb vapors right out of the air. Dusts can settle on your food, and your food can absorb the vapors. Think not? Lay a piece of bread on your table in the morning, then take it outside with you at the end of the day. What is that smell? Chemical vapors!
  • You should always wear approved safety glasses whenever you work and should give your client a pair to wear as well. Your client may love you and think you are the greatest nail technician in the world. But, if you accidentally splash primer or wrap monomer in their eyes, you have lost a friend and gained a lawsuit! You are responsible for the client's safety while in your care.
  • Soft contact lenses can absorb vapors from the air -- never wear contact lenses in the salon, and wash your hands before touching the eye area. Wearing contacts while in the salon is risky as vapors will collect in the soft lenses and make them unwearable. Even if you wear safety glasses, the vapors are still absorbed. The contaminated lens can etch the surface of the eye and cause permanent damage. Should an accidental spill occur, the liquid will 'wick' under the lens, making proper cleansing of the eye more difficult.
  • Treat all chemical products with respect. Don't be fooled by marketing terms like "nontoxic", "natural", and "organic." Organic simply means the chemical contains carbon in its structure. Most things on earth are organic. Cow dung, poison ivy, and road tar are all 100% organic and natural. Natural simply means "occurring in nature." Nature is a wicked place; filled with poisonous substances. Natural doesn't mean a product is safe, wholesome, or even better.
  • Don't judge a chemical by what it CAN do -- what's important is how easily you can prevent the potential hazard. Alcohol (in beer and wine) CAN cause liver damage -- if you drink a couple quarts a day for 5 years! It won't happen because you have a margarita with lunch.
  • There is no need to fear chemicals, just be careful and wise. Know your products, read and understand the MSDS, read all product warning labels, and follow the manufacturers application guidelines for all your salon products.
  • To reduce exposure to vapors, ventilate, don't circulate! Air-conditioning units are designed to circulate the existing air in a room. A ventilation system will 'remove' the existing air and draw fresh air into the room. Vented manicuring stations will help 'control' dusts and vapors, but only if the charcoal filter is changed regularly
Most of the above information courtesy of Doug Schoon; longtime mentor and friend of this author. I may have re-written and edited parts of the information over the past decade and a half to be more easily understood and relateable to nail techs, but the basic concepts and ideas I learned from him. Doug has always been very generous and sharing in his wealth of knowledge of nail chemicals and their safe use. His goal and hope has always been to educate all nail professionals in working safely, thus improving their long-term health, and protecting their careers. He once told me, "No one can own knowledge. Knowledge and the laws of the universe (and how they relate to the world of nail technology) belong to us all, and thus should be shared freely. It is only through this free exchange of knowledge that we can learn more." Thank you Doug!