Toxic Toes : Better Conditions for Nail Salon Workers

By guest blogger Rebecca Bauen, associate director at Somos Mayfair.

Before our weekly staff meeting at Somos Mayfair begins, I look around the room at my mostly female colleagues. With more than 300 days of sunshine per year in San Jose, I’m not surprised to see that the sandals are out and all the toes are painted.

I love the colors and messages sent with our painted toes: seductive red, grasshopper green, dark purple sky. But whether we take our sweet selves to the salon for a little pampering or do it ourselves, nail polish and the industry behind it are toxic:

  • The waste from its production? Right into landfills.
  • Those nasty fumes in its application? Ever been to a salon without a fan?
  • Toxins in the required industrial cleansers at the salons?  Into the water.
  • The whole cycle of production, consumption, and waste in self-care are poison.  Ironic, no?

It doesn’t have to be this way.

I love the Women’s Foundation California for focusing their gender lens on the environment and calling for innovations at the intersection of the environment and women’s work.  Who paints our toes?  Why are Southeast Asian women who work in nail salons sick with very specific illnesses?  What laws can we help pass to protect them? And, what new products can we demand to protect women who paint our toes and our health along with the water and earth?

We have to ask these questions, as we bring out our spring feet, and then push for change.

Rebecca Bauen is associate director at Somos Mayfair in San Jose and likes her polish bubble bath pink.

Learn More:

The Women’s Foundation of California was the first funder of the California Healthy Nair Salon Collaborative. The Collaborative is educating, agitating, and organizing for better conditions for workers and a healthy environment for us all.

If you want the full story on the toxicity of nail polish and what you can do to avoid these toxins, check out the work of  Safe Cosmetics.

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