Things to Consider Before Receiving Your Next Nail Care

By: Sara Kim

Edited By: Sharon E. Chin


Research results by the Department of Toxic Substances Control for the California Environmental Protection Agency have revealed several significant health hazards caused by chemicals used in nail and beauty products. Nail salon workers have the highest risk, as they are exposed to fumes from nail polish lacquer for long periods of time; their exposure to acrylics and other strong chemicals make them notorious for their susceptibility to respiratory and skin problems. These workers commonly show asthma-like symptoms and experience pain when touching cold or hot objects. Also common ailments shared among female nail salon workers include a tendency to have miscarriages or give birth to children with physical and/or cognitive impairments. Some studies even suggest that there are carcinogens in nail products.

Unfortunately, research in the field of nail care products is vague, as not enough studies have been conducted with the accuracy needed to draw firm conclusions. Hence, it is difficult to confidently declare the exact degree to which chemicals in nail products threaten the health of salon workers. Even the federal law that regulates cosmetics safety, written in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, is outdated and based on standards appropriated 75 years ago. On top of that, efforts to review these standards have been continuously dismantled by the Personal Care Products Council lobbying the review panel. Although many workplace safety officials agree about the dire situation for nail salon workers, not much action has been taken to actually improve the work environment. In fact, because many of these workers are immigrants who are either unaware of their rights or too scared to stand up for themselves, it makes it easier for employers to engage in unfair labor practices and abuse the workers for their labor.

The question you may ask at this point is: how, then, can I receive nail care ethnically? In “How to get an ethical manicure: a guide to spotting worker exploitation,” Dara Lind lists some things to consider before walking into a nail salon. First, it is important to understand the difference between exploitation and trafficking. Exploitation occurs when the workers are unfairly treated, whether through hazardous working environments or low pay. On the other hand, labor trafficking is defined by workers who are forced into jobs without their consent and do not receive compensation for their work. When such situations are spotted, report for help accordingly, either to your state’s Department of Labor for worker exploitation or to the National Human Trafficking Hotline for trafficking. Lind also suggests straightforwardly asking store owners how they distribute their money, as the owners would gladly share the information if they are not guilty. Lind also suggests understanding that there may be language barriers before making any judgments and promoting businesses you know frequent.

Sara (Da Som) Kim is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes.

Reference: Nir, Sarah Maslin. “Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers.”  New York Times. May 8, 2015. URL: Date accessed 5/24/15.

Lind, Dara. “How to get an ethical manicure: a guide to spotting worker exploitation.”  Vox Health Care. May 8, 2015. URL: Date accessed 5/24/15.

Photo Credit: Nicole Bengiveno/ The New York Times.


Cancer and the Right to Health

By Fiona Lander, MBBS(hons)/LLB(hons)

At first glance, many health practitioners and members of the public would not think that diseases such as cancer have a great deal to do with human rights, or even the law more generally. After all, aren’t human rights about things like freedom of speech, torture and imprisonment? And how can a person contracting cancer involve an infringement of their basic rights?

Look closely, and the links become more apparent. It is not a coincidence that rates of cancer diagnoses are steadily rising in developing countries, and amongst people of lower socioeconomic status. Annually, more than two-thirds of cancer-related deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.[1] However, only 5% of global spending on cancer occurs in these same countries, despite the fact that they account for nearly 80% of the worldwide burden of cancer.[2]

Tobacco use remains the single most important risk factor for cancer, causing 22% of global cancer deaths.[3] But while tobacco consumption has steadily declined in high-income countries over the last 20 years, tobacco consumption in developing countries has increased to 5.09 million tonnes.[4] The developing world accounts for more than 70% of global cigarette sales.[5] Tobacco companies have deliberately moved on to target poorly regulated, poorly resourced countries – with weak or inconsistently enforced tobacco legislation – in the hope of maintaining their profit margins.

Most people think about cancer as a non-communicable disease – that is, a disease that isn’t contagious. But many cancers are actually caused by viral infections, which are readily transmissible between humans. For instance, cervical cancer is caused by certain strains of the human papilloma virus. Such cancers now account for one-fifth of all cancer deaths in developing countries.[6]

We now have a safe, effective vaccine for HPV, Gardasil, which can prevent cervical cancer. This vaccine has been available in the developed world since 2006-2007. GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, only just added Gardasil to its stable of vaccinations in 2013. And yet, in some Latin American countries cervical cancer, which is entirely preventable, now kills more women worldwide than pregnancy.[7]

Occupational health is another area in which a lack of effective laws to protect workers can, in some instances, directly result in cancer. In the absence of respect for, and enforcement of, laws around worker’s rights, employees risk exposure to various carcinogens including asbestos, vinyl chloride and pesticides. Substances such as beryllium and silica caused 111,000 deaths from lung cancer in 2004; in addition to this, 59,000 people died from asbestos exposure in the same year.[8] These numbers are far from insignificant.

So what can be done about this? There is no doubt that the simple question of adequate funding would go a long way towards addressing these issues. But for long-term, sustainable change to occur, broader solutions are necessary.

These might include:

  • Cooperation between developed and developing countries to create and effectively enforce laws limiting exposure to carcinogens;
  • Tighter legal controls on advertising, marketing and promotion of tobacco in developing countries, to prevent further increases in tobacco use;
  • Reform in trade agreements and other legal mechanisms that restrict access to essential medicines, including novel cancer treatments, by making these drugs unaffordable in low and middle-income countries.

Each of these approaches requires an acknowledgement that the public health interest – and the right to health of affected populations in low and middle-income countries – should take precedence over profits and business expansion. Sounds simple? It should be.

But increasing recognition that cancer is not simply a disease of affluence, and is in fact often caused by a combination of poor regulation and a lack of recognition of basic rights, is a good first step in tackling these issues.


Fiona Lander, MBBS(hons)/LLB(hons), is a doctor at Austin Health, and a law graduate.  She is currently undertaking research in Australian/Indian comparative public health law, as well as the intersection between global human rights law and economics.  She previously worked with the Health and Human Rights team at the WHO, Geneva.


[1] Knaul et al, Closing the Cancer Divide: A Blueprint to Expand Access in Low and Middle Income Countries. Harvard Global Equity Initiative, Boston, MA, November 2011, page 3.
[2] Ibid.
[3] World Health Organisation, Cancer (2013, WHO, Geneva). Available at:[4] Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
[5] Australia India Institute, Report of the Australia-India Institute Taskforce on Tobacco Control (2012, Australia India Institute, Melbourne) page 21.
[6] World Health Organisation, Cancer (2013, WHO, Geneva). Available at:[7] UNFPA, Preventing Cervical Cancer, a Leading Cause of Women’s Death in Many Developing Countries (2010, UNFPA). Available at:[8] WHO, 10 Facts on Environmental and Occupational Health and Cancer (2011, WHO). Available at:


Breast Cancer and Environmental Pollution

This article is cross-posted from Columbia Science Review’s Spread Science Blog.  The original article can be found here.

[Cancer InCytes would like to point out that low-socioeconomic societies, domestically and internationally, are exposed to the same types of pollutants that are discussed below.]

A Troubling Link Between Breast Cancer and the Environment

By Alex Bernstein

In the late 1950’s, few doctors thought to take blood and urine samples for future use in long-term studies. Yet, that is exactly what Jacob Yerushalmy, a UC Berkeley biostatistics professor, began to do. These early blood samples were carefully frozen and stored with the hope to aid researchers in the future. Over the years, similar samples were collected from the daughters and granddaughters of the original patients. Today, all of these samples are stored at the university’s brand new biorespitory campus where eager scientists enjoy unprecedented research opportunities. Nina Holland, a professor at the school and the director of the biorespitory center, points out just how important this study is. She explains, “The fact that you can go back 50 years is remarkable. This is probably one of the most valuable studies.”

Initiated in 1959, the Child Health and Development Studies project has closely monitored the health of over 15,000 daughters, mothers, and granddaughters in the San Francisco Bay Area in an attempt to determine the influence of environmental exposure on breast cancer incidence. It has long been suggested that epigenetic factors, such as alcohol and tobacco, play a significant role in breast cancer development in addition to one’s genetic predisposition. Yet, the shocking findings of this five-decade study reveal that the connection between the environment and breast cancer development is even more profound than was thought before.

Although a startling one in eight US women develops breast cancer over the course of her life, disturbingly little is known about the causes of the disease as genetic factors are estimated to only account for about 5-10% of cases.

The unique scope and length of the study is beginning to reveal important and unexpected results. Early findings are indicating that a child’s exposure to various chemicals while still in the womb can play a much larger role in her development and risk for cancer than was previously considered.  Already, the 100,000 blood samples are beginning to provide insight into the fundamental paradox of breast cancer: Why do so many women without any apparent genetic predisposition develop breast cancer? Researchers such as project director Barbara Cohn theorize that the answer lies in the detected environmental pollutants (many of which have already been banned) that were found in the blood sample. The theory is that early exposure to estrogen and other hormone impersonating chemicals increases the chance of breast cancer development. Such a hypothesis appears to be confirmed by the 50-year study as the risk of breast cancer tripled for women who were exposed to various PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyl, known to be persistent organic pollutants).

Reproductive toxicologist Suzanne Fenton explains that this link has yet to be identified in previous studies because “they measured levels of chemicals in women later in life, after they were diagnosed with cancer, not during periods when the breast is most susceptible.” Although thorough research has yet to be completed, these early findings have already begun to make a big splash in the research community.

By the time this study is complete, not only will we know that much more about breast cancer, but also about the importance and impacts of our everyday environment.