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Nail salons embrace lower-toxin trend

BURLINGAME, Calif. -- Nail salons may be in the business of beauty, but there can be an ugly side to all that pampering: some products contain toxic chemicals. Now, CBS San Francisco reports a growing number of salons in the Bay Area are responding by adopting healthier products and practices intended to protect customers and workers.

Spa Elysee Nails and Skin Care in Burlingame is one of about fifty salons in the San Francisco area participating in the Healthy Nail Salon Program.

Owner Kim Pham says the difference is apparent as soon as a customer walks in the door.

"Customers don't smell a lot of acrylics," she explained.

In addition to open windows, there's a special ventilation unit, paid for by the program. Workers also have access to gloves and masks. Products used at the salon do not contain known toxic chemicals. Polishes, in particular, must be made without three chemicals known as the "toxic trio:" Toluene, Dibutyl phthalate and formaldehyde.

"We also encourage customer to veer into a more natural manicure or pedicure," Pham said. The extra environmental considerations add a few dollars to the cost, but many customers think it's worth it.

Organizers of the program say the changes are not only beneficial for customers, they're vital for workers who spend long hours in salons in close contact with nail products.

"They have a lot of chronic rashes, dermatitis, a lot of respiratory illnesses, wheezing and reproductive problems," explained Julia Liou, of Asian Health Services and California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative.

Pham says her employees are getting used to a new way of doing business and feel safer.

"They learn and then they're happy," she said.

Participation in the Healthy Nail Salon program is voluntary. It is currently in place in San Francisco, Alameda County, and San Mateo County. Santa Clara expects to begin enrolling salons later this year.