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Formaldehyde and Other Nasty Chemicals in Hair/Beauty and Nail Salons

If you need assistance with formaldehyde in hair/beauty salons as discussed in this article, call us at 973-366-4660 for email us at info@atlenv.com for details and a free estimate.

Written By:  Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President
February 24, 2020

Formaldehyde and Other Nasty Chemicals in Hair/Beauty and Nail Salons

OSHA AND NIOSH – Hair Products with Formaldehyde in Hair Salons

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have recently begun looking into complaints from hair salon owners, stylists and clients about formaldehyde in certain hair straightening products.

Despite the fact that many of these products’ labels claim to be “Formaldehyde-Free,” NIOSH found as much as 11% formaldehyde by weight in some.  During product application and hair drying procedures, formaldehyde is released.  Not only are the hairstylist and the client subject to exposure to formaldehyde, but other people in the salon are, as well. 

Nail Salons Have Formaldehyde Too!

It is certainly not as publicized as hair products but formaldehyde may also be contained in nail polish and nail hardeners.  There have been numerous instances where a beauty shop claims their hair care products do not contain formaldehyde but air samplers confirm the presence of formaldehyde.  The likely culprit is the nail salon’s products; i.e. nail polish and nail hardeners. 

Nail Salons Have Other Hazardous Chemicals Too!


Very common in nail polish and nail glues, can produce dizziness and lightheadedness in high levels on prolonged exposure. High exposure can irritate eyes, lungs and throat and even the nervous system.  If pregnant, strongly recommended avoiding exposure.

Dibutyl Phthalate

An ingredient in nail polish and nail hardeners; can cause nausea and respiratory irritation.  If pregnant, strongly recommended avoiding exposure. 

Methacrylate Compounds

The main ingredient in anti-fungal fingernails; has a strong chemical odor and can cause allergies, asthma, and dermatitis.  Hand and eye protection required of the technician.  Since forms of local exhaust may be necessary including when removing anti-fungal nails.


The primary ingredient in nail polish remover with a strong chemical odor.  Irritation to eyes and respiratory system.  Not as toxic as the other chemicals. 

Exposure Limits For Other Chemicals


OSHA limit for toluene is 200 ppm.  California has set a limit of 10 ppm. 

Dibutyl Phthalate

No regulatory limits are set for Dibutyl Phthalate.  California lists this chemical as a developmental and reproductive toxicant. 

Methacrylate Compounds

No regulatory limits exist.  Strong odors.  Some specific methacrylate compounds do have recommended exposure limits.  Have to know the specific chemical.


OSHA’s limit for Acetone is 1000 ppm, thus it is not considered as toxic as the other haircare/nail salon chemicals.  Where Acetone is used, same form of ventilation is strongly recommended. 

OSHA, NIOSH, ACGIH Exposure Limits – Formaldehyde

The current OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for formaldehyde is 0.75 parts per million (ppm), expressed as the average concentration in the air over the full, 8-hour work shift and is intended to protect hair stylists from overexposure.  This is often written as the Time-Weighted Average (TWA).  The NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit (REL), averaged over a 10-hour day is 0.016 ppm.  The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) has recommended a not-to-exceed ceiling limit of 0.3 ppm.  NIOSH labels formaldehyde as a potential occupational carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).  ACGIH lists it as a suspect human carcinogen.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers formaldehyde as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.

Chemicals Releasing Formaldehyde

Check labels.  A hair straightening product may claim to be formaldehyde-free, but if the label lists methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanol, oxomethane or oxymethylene, these are all either other names for formaldehyde or are the names of chemicals that can release formaldehyde into the air.

Determining Formaldehyde and Other Nasty Chemicals in Hair/Beauty and Nail Salon Exposure

The only way to determine if people in a salon are exposed to formaldehyde or the nail salon’s chemicals is to analyze a sample of air in their breathing zones for Formaldehyde, Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate, Methacrylate Compounds or Acetone.  The Industrial Hygienists and Environmental Consultants at Atlantic Environmental, Inc. have more than 100 years’ combined experience in air sampling/testing, analysis, and data interpretation, assuring you of reliable guidance.

If interested in further information or testing, call us at 973-366-4660, e-mail us at info@atlenv.com or fill out our online form.

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