I'm so glad this issue is getting attention, not only because of the exploitation of the female workers, but also because women are disproportionately exposed to the toxic chemicals used in manicures.
I found the following paragraph from "The Price of Nice Nails" particularly disturbing on "Mother's Day":
"Compelled to work endless hours just to get by, the manicurists live lives that unspool almost entirely within the walls of their salons. An underground economy has sprung up in Flushing and other city neighborhoods where salon workers live, to help them cope. On weekdays, women walk from door to door like Pied Pipers, taking nail salon workers’ children to school for a fee. Many manicurists pay caregivers as much as half their wages to take their babies six days a week, 24 hours a day, after finding themselves unable to care for them at night and still wake up to paint nails."
And this, from "Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers":
"'I went to the hospital, and I told him, ‘I’m a manicurist,’' said the woman, who declined to give her name because she wanted her medical history to remain private. Her doctor urged her to change jobs. “The chemicals are not healthy for your lungs, your liver, and sometimes they begin cancer,” she recalled. “I was laughing. I said, ‘Who is going to pay my bills?’” She has since miscarried twice more.
In scientific circles, the three chemicals in nail products that are associated with the most serious health issues are dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde. They are known as the “toxic trio” among worker advocates.
Dibutyl phthalate, called DBP for short, makes nail polish and other products pliable. In Australia, it is listed as a reproductive toxicant and must be labeled with the phrases “may cause harm to the unborn child” and “possible risk of impaired fertility.” Starting in June, the chemical will be prohibited from cosmetics in that country. It is one of over 1,300 chemicals banned from use in cosmetics in the European Union. But in the United States, where fewer than a dozen chemicals are prohibited in such products, there are no restrictions on DBP.
Toluene, a type of solvent, helps polish glide on smoothly. But the E.P.A. says in a fact sheet that it can impair cognitive and kidney function. In addition, repeated exposure during pregnancy can “adversely affect the developing fetus,” according to the agency.
Formaldehyde, best known for its use in embalming, is a hardening agent in nail products. In 2011, the National Toxicology Program, part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, labeled it a human carcinogen. By 2016, it will be banned from cosmetics in the European Union."