From colored acrylics and hand-painted pictures to airbrushed designs and rhinestone accents, nail salons offer an arsenal of products to create the manicure of a woman’s dreams.

But these same products are loaded with toxic chemicals that have caught the attention of the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division and other agencies.

The agencies are worried that Oregon’s 14,500 nail technicians could be putting themselves at higher risk of breast cancer or birth defects by inhaling or absorbing these chemicals through the skin.

“The risk is not so much for the person getting the nails done,” said Melanie Mesaros, spokeswoman for Oregon OSHA. “It’s for the women working there all day.”

In the U.S., 95 percent of all nail technicians are women, and of those 35 percent are Vietnamese, many of whom work more than eight hours a day – increasing their exposure to chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate and methyl ethyl ketone.

These nail care products are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and many of them have not been sufficiently studied to determine long-term health impacts.

In Jackson County, there are 281 nail salons, according to the Oregon Health Licensing Agency.

OSHA and other groups banded together last year to form the Oregon Collaborative for Healthy Nail Salons to better educate salons about the potential risks of these chemicals and to provide information about minimizing risks. Other states have formed similar collaboratives.

A brochure has been printed in both English and Vietnamese and has been distributed to many salons this year. One of its suggestions is to use a table with a built-in fan that vents to the outside. Such tables are often required in new salons subject to current building codes.

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