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VOC sources and exposures in nail salons: a pilot study in Michigan, USA



Exposures of nail salon technicians have received attention due to the potentially toxic materials used in nail products, which include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde and methyl methacrylate (MMA). This study characterized area and personal concentrations and other indoor air parameters in 17 nail salons in fall and winter seasons in three areas of Michigan.


VOC samples were analyzed using thermal desorption, gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy, and the VOC composition of 35 nail products (e.g., polish, top coat, base coat) was measured using headspace sampling. Ventilation rates were derived using CO2 concentrations, occupancy and building information, and VOC sources were apportioned by a novel application of chemical mass balance models.


We detected ethyl acetate, propyl acetate, butyl acetate, MMA, n-heptane and toluene in most salons, and benzene, d-limonene, formaldehyde, and ethyl methacrylate in some salons. While MMA was not measured in the consumer and professional products, and the use of pure MMA in salons has been not been permitted since the 1970s, MMA was found in air at concentrations from 100 to 36,000 µg/m3 in 15 of 17 salons; thus its use appears to be commonplace in the industry. Personal measurements, representing exposures to workers and clients, were about twice those of the area measurements for many VOCs.


This study identifies the products responsible for emissions, shows the widespread presence of MMA, and documents low ventilation rates in some salons. It also demonstrates that “informal” short-term sampling approaches can evaluate chemical exposures in nail salons, providing measurements that can be used to protect a potentially susceptible and vulnerable population. Additional controls, including restrictions on the VOC compositions and improved ventilation, can reduce exposures to salon workers and clients.

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We gratefully acknowledge support from the Pilot Project Research Training (PPRT) program, which is supported by Grant T42OH008455 from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services. We also thank Edward Zellers, Stephanie Sayler, Sam Lu, members of Michigan Healthy Nail Salon Cooperative (MHNSC), and the nail salon volunteers for their assistance.

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Correspondence to Stuart Batterman.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

The visits were conducted as routine nail services without notification of the research purpose. Our procedures were vetted by our institutional review board (IRB). We neither requested nor collected personal information or business information from salon staff or clients, and no interventions were attempted. IRB staff at the University of Michigan confirm our reasoning.

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Zhong, L., Batterman, S. & Milando, C.W. VOC sources and exposures in nail salons: a pilot study in Michigan, USA. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 92, 141–153 (2019).

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  • Occupational health
  • Chemical exposures
  • Ventilation
  • Indoor air quality (IAQ)
  • Methyl methacrylate (MMA)