Beautiful Hair and Nail – How Nigerian Salons Are Harming Their Customers


    When you step into a beauty salon to get your hair and nails done, you plan to step out just beautiful. You however end up carrying along with you new health hazards. A total of 29 shops from 20 Local Government Areas (LGAs) sampled in a study, showed that all the shops regularly make use of cosmetic products containing particularly the “Toxic Trio” – a group of chemicals (toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate) which are ingredients in nail polishes and known today to be very toxic to human body.

    Other chemicals ingredients identified to have detrimental effects found on cosmetics shelf of salons and beauty care givers (especially when handled in an unsafe manner as was found in the study) were P-phenylenediaamine used in hair dye, butylacetate, Isopropylacetate and ethylacetate used in nail paints and varnishes or wig-glue/hair piece bonding, ammonium per sulfate in olive oils as hair bleach, acetone in nail polish remover and hair spray, hydroquinone in hair treatment, preservatives like formaldehyde releasers and parabens in shampoos, shaving gels, make-ups and polyethylene glycol (cleaner/disinfectant in lotion and creams).
    “This is alarming and a dangerous trend, people patronising beauty salons and cosmetologists must as a matter of urgency avoid the ‘toxic trio’ products. Since safer and affordable alternatives exist, customers should now ask for only cosmetics products that are labelled as ‘Three-free’ which do not contain these harmful ingredients and are therefore healthier for the bodies” said Leslie Adogame, Executive Director, SRADev Nigeria.

    Other key findings of the study include:Poor housekeeping practices in most of the salons. For example, a very high (79.3%) percentage of their workplaces were poorly ventilated, whereas cosmetics products are regularly exposed when not in use. Poor solid waste management and wastewater treatment practice regular. Chemical exposures to little children in attendance at workplace were noticed; and cases of poorly handled food and cooking utensils found within at workplaces.
    A very high proportion (head cover (93.1%), body wear (82.8%), and nose mask (89.7%) while at work) of the workers do not make use of Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) when at work or while handling cosmetics.

    Significant cases of difficulty in breathing, respiratory dysfunctions including occasional difficulty in breathing and catarrh, occasional coughing, incessant abdominal pain, occasional miscarriage, occasional neurotoxic effects such as memory loss and dizziness were indicative health symptoms/problems identified among salon workers interviewed.The report further cautioned Nigerians on excessive and unsafe use of cosmetic products. It stated further that, reviewing the ingredients on the label is one way to be sure cosmetic product is true to its claims. It cautioned users to be aware that potentially problematic chemical ingredients are today hidden behind the word “fragrances.” Fragrances are considered trade secrets and the ingredients within fragrances are not required by law to be revealed and may represent many ingredients, sometimes hundreds, the report disclosed, adding that since “unscented” and “fragrance free” have no legal definition, their labels do not guarantee that the product doesn’t contain potentially toxic chemicals.
    “Globally, of the over 10,500 chemical ingredients used in personal care products, only about 11% have been assessed for health and safety. So the need for occupational safety and health standards for personal care products imported and used in the country requires some urgency,” said Adogame.

    Since 1950, the World Health Organisation/International Labour Organisation (WHO/ILO) expert committees on Occupational Health and Safety in their first session spelt out the objectives of occupational health which includes promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations. Although, Nigeria has Workman Compensation Decree and the Factory Decrees of 1987 which should address the issue of occupational health and safety from federal to local levels, they have however not been effectively put to use or reviewed to the present day realities. “As at today, there is no government institution that statutorily coordinates occupational hygiene and not too many Nigerians understand labour laws, factory laws and workman compensation laws that are meant to ensure the dignity of labour and its security,” said Faith Osa-Egharevba, Senior Programme officer, SRADev Nigeria.

    A comprehensive report released by Women’s Voices for the Earth in 2014 shows that workers in beauty salons businesses are exposed to myriad of chemicals of concern every day in their workplaces since hair sprays, permanent waves, acrylic nail application, and numerous other salon products contain ingredients associated with asthma, dermatitis, neurological symptoms and even cancer. Salon workers and their customers absorb these chemicals through their skin and breathe them in as fumes build up in the air of the salon over the course of the workday. In Nigeria, the beauty salon sector is made up of hairdressers, hairstylists, cosmetologists, barbers, nail salon workers, and other beauty and personal care workers employs more than one million people who work across thousands of salons and receive some 150 million potential customers. Hairdressing in Nigeria is a predominantly female profession, with over 80% women workers many of whom work full-time and stay in the shops for about 8-hour periods of time per day. A healthy work environment contributes significantly to the success of the business and is important both for the persons working in the salon trade as well as for the customers.

    Next time you step into a salon, ask for natural products, look out for harmful ingredients, forget air-conditioning- ask for doors and windows to be left open for good ventilation, ensure fumes from generators are not in the air and ensure staff appropriately protect themselves before attending to you.