Salon workers are holding on to their masks, and not just because od Covid-19


Cosmetology workers are reassessing their jobs, including the chemicals they’re exposed to.

Stylist Michele Ortiz has no plans to get rid of her personal protective equipment, even as Covid-19 protocols are rescinded in California and other states. “I would love to see hairdressers wearing their masks even after the pandemic, whenever all of this subsides,” Ortiz says.

For years, the California hairstylist experienced nosebleeds, lightheadedness, hot flashes, and rosacea as a result of the harsh chemicals used in hair color services. But now she refuses to use such chemicals, and after arriving for work at Phenix Salon Suites in Santa Barbara, she dons a mask, rubber gloves, and a face shield, and switches on an air purifier to counteract the chemicals used by a coworker. She feels safer this way, and not just from the virus.

Workers across the cosmetology industry, including spa, hair, and nail salon employees, have expressed workplace safety concerns before and during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to complaints filed by cosmetology workers to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) between January 2015 and July 2020 — obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests in partnership with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and then shared with Vox — exposure to these chemicals, especially in salons with poor ventilation or whose owners failed to provide PPE, resulted in burning eyes, breathing problems, rashes, and more.

Now that salons have reopened and the CDC updated its guidelines to say fully vaccinated people can resume activities without practicing social distancing or wearing masks, cosmetology workers must navigate both the immediate threat of Covid-19 and the ongoing risks of cosmetic chemical exposures.

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Vox, 20 June 2021