Indoor Air Quality in Nail Salons

Developments in State Policy


Nail salons are a common feature of commercial areas throughout the United States.  Among the important health and safety considerations for these facilities is reducing exposure of employees and customers to chemicals found in nail polishes, polish remover, artificial nails, and other nail products.  A 2016 New York State Department of Health review of the chemicals used in nail salons noted that “nail specialty work entails the use of many different products containing potentially dozens of different chemical ingredients that can change over time.” The report also noted that about 30 chemicals or chemical categories appear to be commonly used in nail products, including: toluene, formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, methyl ethyl ketone, ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, acetone, acetonitrile, ethyl methacrylate, isopropyl acetate, methacrylic acid, methyl methacrylate (banned in many states), and quaternary ammonium compounds in disinfectants.

The New York State report found that, in the event of substantial exposure, many of the common chemicals used in nail products are associated with similar short-term effects such as headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, and irritation of the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. Potential health effects from long-term exposure include skin sensitization, cancer, and kidney and liver disease, as well as other effects on the reproductive, developmental, and nervous systems. The risk of experiencing these health effects depends on a variety of factors, including the nature of the exposure and individual susceptibility. Employees and customers may be exposed to chemicals by inhaling vapors or dust, through vapor contact with eyes and mucous membranes, or via direct skin contact with the nail products.

One important strategy for minimizing indoor exposure to chemical in nail salons and other facilities is source reduction – that is, reducing the use of chemicals in the first place. Policies aiming to achieve source reduction might, for example, restrict the use of certain chemicals in nail products or create incentives for facilities to use products without those chemicals. Ventilation – supplying air to and removing air from a space – is another key approach to reducing indoor contaminant exposures.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets standards for exposure to certain chemicals used in nail salons and other private workplaces. However, the agency “recognizes that many of its permissible exposure limits (PELs) are outdated and inadequate for ensuring protection of worker health.” Thus, chemical exposures in nail salons that are in compliance with OSHA regulations might still pose health risks. OSHA also requires product manufacturers to give salon owners safety data sheets (SDSs) on the health and safety risks of hazardous chemicals used in the salon. Employers must make the SDSs available to their workers and provide training about chemical hazards to all workers who use products containing the chemical. The OSHA website provides information about these requirements and other resources on health and safety in nail salons. The Environmental Protection Agency also has published educational materials for nail salon employees.

In recent years, a number of state and local governments have adopted policies to address the potential health risks from chemical exposure in nail salons, primarily by establishing ventilation requirements. Following is an overview of these policies, along with short descriptions of selected examples. Note that this Policy Brief does not cover state occupational safety and health regulations, which may be more stringent than the federal OSHA regulations.


State Policies: New and Renovated Facilities

Building/Ventilation Codes.  State and local building codes are a key vehicle for establishing detailed technical ventilation requirements for nail salons. The International Mechanical Code (IMC), a model code adopted by many state and local governments throughout the U.S., includes ventilation provisions specifically for nail salons. The IMC applies only to new construction and to certain alterations and renovations.

The IMC is revised every three years, and the nail salon requirements have evolved somewhat over the past few code cycles.  Beginnng with the 2015 version of the IMC, the code includes, in addition to minimum ventilation rates and other general mechanical ventilation requirements for nail salons, the following specific exhaust ventilation standards:

  • For each manicure and pedicure station, “a source capture system capable of exhausting not less than 50 cfm [cubic feet per minute] per station.”  (IMC Table 403.3.1.1, note h.)  A source capture system is: “A mechanical exhaust system designed and constructed to capture air contaminants at their source and to exhaust such contaminants to the outdoor atmosphere.” (IMC 202.)
  • “Manicure tables and pedicure stations not provided with factory-installed exhaust inlets shall be provided with exhaust inlets located not more than 12 inches…horizontally and vertically from the point of chemical application.” (IMC 502.20.)

It is important to ensure that the construction and renovation of nail salons incorporate best practices for ventilation, and the IMC provides a model for state and local policy. States and localities may retain, modify, or delete individual IMC provisions – including the nail salon ventilation and source capture requirements – to fit the priorities of the jurisdictions. There are many states with mandatory statewide mechanical codes that have adopted the current IMC nail salon provisions, and additional states have adopted the nail salon requirements from prior versions (2009, 2012) of the IMC. In addition, numerous local jurisdictions have adopted the IMC and retained the nail salon ventilation requirements.


State Policies: Existing Facilities 

In addition to establishing requirements for new facilities, states have a role to play in developing policies to ensure that all existing nail salons maintain adequate ventilation to reduce indoor exposures.  Typically, existing nail salons that are not undergoing qualifying renovations or changes to the ventilation system are required to comply only with the ventilation system requirements in effect at the time the facilities were constructed or permitted/licensed. 

State policies could require or incentivize existing salons to install ventilation systems that provide adequate general and exhaust ventilation.  State policies could also help ensure that salons carry out regular maintenance practices such as cleaning and changing filters for air intake and exhaust, so that their ventilation systems function properly.

Business Licensing Regulations- General Standards. Some states address ventilation in existing nail salons through their business licensing regulations, though these requirements are typically of a general nature.  For example, Arizona requires salons to have ventilation and air filtration that prevents the “build-up of emissions and particulates, keeps odors and diffusions from chemicals and solutions at a safe level, and provides sufficient air circulation and oxygen.” (Az. Admin. Code 4-10-112S.)  South Dakota’s licensing regulations require that nail salons use “a mechanical exhaust system to keep the area free from dangerous vapors.” (S.D. Admin. Code 20:42:04:01.) Other states include language that is even more general – e.g., requiring “adequate” or “appropriate” ventilation.

Other Strategies. In recent years, a few states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws and regulations that establish other strategies for improving indoor air quality in existing (as well as new) salons. New York amended its business licensing regulations in 2016 to incorporate and expand on the 2015 IMC provisions, to set requirements for both new and existing salons.  A 2017 Utah law modified the 2015 IMC source capture requirements for new and existing salons that provide acrylic nail applications. California’s 2016 law requires the state to develop guidelines for voluntary healthy nail salon recognition programs adopted by cities and counties. In 2021, the District of Columbia adopted requirements that incorporate and expand on the 2015 IMC provisions for ventilation and apply when a facility applies for a new license or license renewal, or when a facility changes ownership or location.

The links below provide more detailed summaries of the three state laws and the District of Columbia regulations:

Though not included here, some local jurisdictions also have adopted ventilation or other requirements that apply to existing nail salons. One example is the city of Boston, which adopted IMC source capture requirements for new and existing salons and also established a financial assistance program to help salons comply with the ventilation requirements.  Other local jurisdictions, including King County, Washington, have established formal voluntary programs to assist nail salons in reducing indoor exposures.


Last updated: Sept. 2017
Watch for updates to this page as new policies are enacted.

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