Beauty

How safe and eco-friendly is your manicure?

How safe and eco-friendly is your manicure?

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Non-degradable lacquer, UV lamps, disposable nail files and buffers. What impact does your manicure have on your health and the environment?

Non-degradable lacquer, UV lamps, disposable nail files and buffers. What impact does your manicure have on your health and the environment?

How safe and eco-friendly is your manicure?
UV lamps, kilometres of foil, non-degradable lacquer and disposable nail files and buffers. Have you considered the impact that your manicure has on yours and your nail technician’s health, and the environment?

We spoke to a dermatologist to separate myth from reality (for example, how many hours would you really have to bake your gel nails for to be at risk of skin cancer?) and took a deeper look at which polishes get the green thumbs up or down.

Our expert, Dr Nomphelo Gantsho, focuses on all types of skin problems that include cosmetic, general, paediatric and surgical dermatology and says that the general answer to staying safe when it comes to painting your nails at home or in a salon is moderation. The solution to reducing the waste and harm to our natural resources on the other hand, needs a stricter approach. As does the approach when it concerns the health risk to nail salon workers, because of their continuous exposure to noxious substances.

Let’s look at the different types of manicures and what the concerns are with each. Unfortunately, there are no zero-waste nail polishes or manicures available, but there are more eco-friendly and less toxic options you could choose.

What are your options?

1. Acrylic/ Dip powder

Previously known as a French tip, applying this acrylic nail can produce so much powder when filing it down for sculpting, that many nail aestheticians have sought medical advice over persistent coughs and other respiratory issues.

A New York Times article shares: “Of the 20 common nail product ingredients listed as causing health problems in the appendix of a safety brochure put out by the Environmental Protection Agency, 17 are hazardous to the respiratory tract, according to the agency. Overexposure to each of them induces symptoms such as burning throat or lungs, laboured breathing or shortness of breath.”

In the same write-up, one salon owner says that when she was younger, she breathed in so much acrylic powder, that her husband would complain after kissing her, that “her breath smelled of solvent and plastic dust.”

2. DIY nail polish

If a few nail lacquers still contain ingredients like butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene, Dr Gantsho says that “only small amounts are permitted for use in cosmetics”. Higher concentrations have been linked to “carcinogens, immunotoxicity and reproductive toxicity or birth defects” but are not as prevalent in newer formulations.

Also, your nail bed is quite impenetrable so most of the things we apply to it won’t get absorbed into the body and the nail polish dries quickly enough that any chemicals in them aren’t released into the air. But nail polish is considered hazardous waste because it’s flammable and contains toxins that leach into the soil.

If you’re painting your nails at home, you might not need to worry about inhalation or absorption, but you do still need to worry about the environment. The nail polish bottles and tools you already own may not be as easy to recycle as you thought.

So, how can you throw them away more responsibly? You’d need to clean out the varnish bottle quite thoroughly before you could even recycle the glass, otherwise it lands up in the landfill. The trouble with this is that whether you or someone else does it, the energy and resources may outweigh the value of recycling such a tiny bottle. Imagine how much acetone you’d need for a proper wash. And then there are the rest of the parts, like the brush and lid, which are generally made from materials that aren’t recyclable.

Some nail salons offer a throw-away service — ask — otherwise UK distributor, Louella Belle offer a recycling service. Even if you have bottles that are not their brand, you can request a recycling label and mail your empties to them for proper recycling.  

When it comes to tools, choose a natural sandstone over a metal, glass or plastic file. They last longer, are ethical, sustainable and zero-waste. And consider what’s in your remover. Fresh Therapies makes an eco-friendly one.

3. Gel/ Shellac

Dr Gantsho says she’s seen a lot of patients come in with thinning of the nail plate after gel polish application. Although the cause may not be clear, it could be a result of the polish removal process. Also prevalent is contact or irritant dermatitis on the fingers, seen in people that are allergic to acetone, especially when fingertips are soaked (in acetone-soaked cotton wool wrapped in foil) for several minutes to dissolve the gel or shellac.

Ask your nail technician if they use products like Orly’s Gel FX, which has a base coat that reduces soaking time by half. It’s also a “cruelty-free nail brand that is also vegan”.

Then there’s the question of exposure to UV radiation when your hands are placed under a curing lamp to bind the gel and shellac to the nail bed. Standard guidelines recommend that you should avoid using these devices for more than 10 minutes per hand, per session. There’ve been some studies that say that it “would take 13 000 to 40 000 nail-drying sessions” or “about 250 years of weekly manicures”, to build up enough UV damage to cause melanoma.”

Dr Gantsho agrees. She says even though the risk of malignant cancer due to nail lamp exposure is extremely low, it might be worthwhile taking along a high SPF sunscreen to apply before sticking your hands under the lamp.

The conclusion

Because of the risk to nail salon workers and the fact that the bottles are not easy to recycle, acrylics seem to get the biggest green thumbs down. Gel comes in at a close second because of the questions around UV radiation, plus recycling. At-home manicures seem the most eco- and health-friendly, provided you finish the bottle and choose vegan, non-toxic lacquers like Zoya and Nailkind.

UV lamps, kilometres of foil, non-degradable lacquer and disposable nail files and buffers. Have you considered the impact that your manicure has on yours and your nail technician’s health, and the environment?

We spoke to a dermatologist to separate myth from reality (for example, how many hours would you really have to bake your gel nails for to be at risk of skin cancer?) and took a deeper look at which polishes get the green thumbs up or down.

Our expert, Dr Nomphelo Gantsho, focuses on all types of skin problems that include cosmetic, general, paediatric and surgical dermatology and says that the general answer to staying safe when it comes to painting your nails at home or in a salon is moderation. The solution to reducing the waste and harm to our natural resources on the other hand, needs a stricter approach. As does the approach when it concerns the health risk to nail salon workers, because of their continuous exposure to noxious substances.

Let’s look at the different types of manicures and what the concerns are with each. Unfortunately, there are no zero-waste nail polishes or manicures available, but there are more eco-friendly and less toxic options you could choose.

What are your options?

1. Acrylic/ Dip powder

Previously known as a French tip, applying this acrylic nail can produce so much powder when filing it down for sculpting, that many nail aestheticians have sought medical advice over persistent coughs and other respiratory issues.

A New York Times article shares: “Of the 20 common nail product ingredients listed as causing health problems in the appendix of a safety brochure put out by the Environmental Protection Agency, 17 are hazardous to the respiratory tract, according to the agency. Overexposure to each of them induces symptoms such as burning throat or lungs, laboured breathing or shortness of breath.”

In the same write-up, one salon owner says that when she was younger, she breathed in so much acrylic powder, that her husband would complain after kissing her, that “her breath smelled of solvent and plastic dust.”

2. DIY nail polish

If a few nail lacquers still contain ingredients like butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene, Dr Gantsho says that “only small amounts are permitted for use in cosmetics”. Higher concentrations have been linked to “carcinogens, immunotoxicity and reproductive toxicity or birth defects” but are not as prevalent in newer formulations.

Also, your nail bed is quite impenetrable so most of the things we apply to it won’t get absorbed into the body and the nail polish dries quickly enough that any chemicals in them aren’t released into the air. But nail polish is considered hazardous waste because it’s flammable and contains toxins that leach into the soil.

If you’re painting your nails at home, you might not need to worry about inhalation or absorption, but you do still need to worry about the environment. The nail polish bottles and tools you already own may not be as easy to recycle as you thought.

So, how can you throw them away more responsibly? You’d need to clean out the varnish bottle quite thoroughly before you could even recycle the glass, otherwise it lands up in the landfill. The trouble with this is that whether you or someone else does it, the energy and resources may outweigh the value of recycling such a tiny bottle. Imagine how much acetone you’d need for a proper wash. And then there are the rest of the parts, like the brush and lid, which are generally made from materials that aren’t recyclable.

Some nail salons offer a throw-away service — ask — otherwise UK distributor, Louella Belle offer a recycling service. Even if you have bottles that are not their brand, you can request a recycling label and mail your empties to them for proper recycling.  

When it comes to tools, choose a natural sandstone over a metal, glass or plastic file. They last longer, are ethical, sustainable and zero-waste. And consider what’s in your remover. Fresh Therapies makes an eco-friendly one.

3. Gel/ Shellac

Dr Gantsho says she’s seen a lot of patients come in with thinning of the nail plate after gel polish application. Although the cause may not be clear, it could be a result of the polish removal process. Also prevalent is contact or irritant dermatitis on the fingers, seen in people that are allergic to acetone, especially when fingertips are soaked (in acetone-soaked cotton wool wrapped in foil) for several minutes to dissolve the gel or shellac.

Ask your nail technician if they use products like Orly’s Gel FX, which has a base coat that reduces soaking time by half. It’s also a “cruelty-free nail brand that is also vegan”.

Then there’s the question of exposure to UV radiation when your hands are placed under a curing lamp to bind the gel and shellac to the nail bed. Standard guidelines recommend that you should avoid using these devices for more than 10 minutes per hand, per session. There’ve been some studies that say that it “would take 13 000 to 40 000 nail-drying sessions” or “about 250 years of weekly manicures”, to build up enough UV damage to cause melanoma.”

Dr Gantsho agrees. She says even though the risk of malignant cancer due to nail lamp exposure is extremely low, it might be worthwhile taking along a high SPF sunscreen to apply before sticking your hands under the lamp.

The conclusion

Because of the risk to nail salon workers and the fact that the bottles are not easy to recycle, acrylics seem to get the biggest green thumbs down. Gel comes in at a close second because of the questions around UV radiation, plus recycling. At-home manicures seem the most eco- and health-friendly, provided you finish the bottle and choose vegan, non-toxic lacquers like Zoya and Nailkind.

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