The middle class activism wagon strikes again! The topic this week? Stay away from those stinky nail salons where the workers are ingesting bad fumes and buy organic nail polish instead!
Ugh, the paragraphs aren't coming. What is coming is a barely coherent stutter about how stupid, condescending, borderline racist (if not actually racist) and impractical this is.
Let's start with the solution and work our way back. Organic nail polish. Suncoat makes one that's available throughout health food stores in California. (Yes I can see how this would be the solution nationwide to the fume problem, buy something only available in California.) How exactly is it organic? Well, I'm not sure. I'm guessing there are no pesticides found in the water they exchange for a chemical solvent? But that doesn't stop them from using Titanium Dioxide, a substance created by a chloride process. Does that sound like it might be a polluting industrial thing to you? Well, you're right. Concerned about your diamonds? I'd also be concerned about where the chromium in the nail polish pigment comes from. The world's largest producers are South Africa and India. Both of which have some serious problems with the health of their workers getting that lovely color out of the ground for you.
So we should support salons with fair labor practises right? Well, there are a couple problems. How do you define which salon has fair labor practises? Are you going to ask your manicurist, likely an independent contractor or possibly part of a family owned business, whether she gets two 15 minute breaks? Or if she makes minimum wage and gets a percentage of her tips? Or are you just going to ask the Vietnamese women? Because, that's pretty goddamned outrageous. Profiling and activism? I don't think these things go together.
The only part of their advice that's even remotely actionable is carrying one of these with you to identify polishes without the "toxic three." If you can get past knowing people die or are unable to bare children from mining the pigments, you're good to go. But what gets me about that list is only one of those is "organic" (essentially meaningless anyway.) And at least 3 of the listed, Orly, OPI and Sally Hansen are common salon brands.
Change.org and the Choices Campus Blog also seem to be entirely unaware the US has a government body that assures people working with chemicals are protected. It does workplace safety inspections, it fines businesses if they're non-compliant. It's called OSHA. It is their job to do exactly what that blog thinks consumers can do. And in fact the toxic trio all have MSDS sheets employers are forced to have on site as part of a Hazardous Communication Program. In fact OSHA has a small business guide for just such a thing. And while my assumption that MSDS are available in Vietnamese nationwide was incorrect, the EPA has a specific project to make health and safety for salon workers clearer. In Vietnamese.
I don't think there's any question that working with chemicals is harmful. But is it just a matter of abandoning your salon for a brand marketed to the middle class green crowd? Well no. For one, the pigment in the polish can be just as harmful to the miners, the people surrounding, the people drinking the water or to the air. So you're still doing a fair amount of damage. Secondly, you're taking business away, potentially from undocumented workers who need the money more than a company put together to appeal to the guilty conscience.
What you can actually do is learn about what requirements the EPA and OSHA have for salon workers and keep an eye out for them. MSDS books are massive. Almost any chemical in large quantities can kill you and no manufacturer wants to be fined for not producing one. Any chemical present in anything in the salon should have a datasheet. If you walk by the office and don't see a huge binder full of paper, then they probably don't have it. If you have questions, call OSHA, the people trained in workplace safety. Do your part for the 20-60 minutes the process takes and use OPI. The quality is better anyway.
But please, for the love of god, do not rely on half baked attempts at consumer "education" by people who can't bother to actually do any research. All of this took me roughly an hour to put together, though I did have the benefit of being familiar with OSHA and MSDS sheets through work, and I'm not a consumer advocate.
In the words of someone else, this is a workplace safety issue, not a consumer one.