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How to Choose the Right Ventilation System for Your Salon
Nail technicians are exposed to potentially hazardous chemicals every day. The dust and vapors generated from products are close to the breathing zone of you and your clients and can cause a variety of long-term health problems. While they aren’t lethal, they can irritate the delicate membranes of the eyes, nose and lungs. “This irritation may cause a burning or itching sensation, which is a warning sign that you need to reduce your exposure to that particular product before any serious damage is done,” says Jeff Cardarella, president of Modern Solutions Incorporated. Proper ventilation can remove any potential inhalation hazard and help ensure safe air quality. Don’t assume that your salon is exempt from these needs—ventilation is vital if you do any kind of nail enhancement services. Even if you only perform manicures and pedicures or your salon smells fresh and clean, you still must take the necessary precautions to properly ventilate your space.
Air Purifying Myths
Nail salons present unique ventilation requirements. The most common misconception is that ventilation is necessary to control odors within the salon, when in fact ventilation should be used to control vapors and dust. Another common mistake is thinking that just because something smells unpleasant, it’s harmful to breathe. Cardarella explains, “Sometimes vapors are readily apparent because of a distinctive odor, but if you can’t smell anything, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any vapors present.” Doug Schoon, chief scientific officer of CND and author of Nail Structure and Product Chemistry (Second Edition), states, “Odor doesn’t determine the safety of a chemical. Smells are vapors stimulating special odor-detecting cells in the nose. Use proper ventilation, and odors will disappear with the vapors.”
Keep in mind that general heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems (HVACs) designed for offices, schools and other nonindustrial settings are inadequate for keeping potentially hazardous substances at “safe” amounts in the air—this type of ventilation dilutes contaminants in the air, but does not completely remove them.
To adequately protect both nail technicians and clients, local exhaust ventilation should be installed. Local exhaust ventilation captures and removes contaminants at their source before they reach the air you breathe. It protects the breathing zone and is preferable to have as close as possible to the source of emissions to keep them vented to the outside of the salon. Local exhaust systems can also be mounted on the wall or ceiling. Some use flexible hoses that can be placed near the breathing zone to increase usefulness. Any such systems must be professionally designed and installed to ensure effectiveness.
Your best ventilation bet—and the only one that should be used in a salon environment—is a commercial-grade, high-quality unit that utilizes a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter and activated charcoal. HEPA filters are very useful for filtering out fine dust particles, which are often microscopic and continually circulate in the air. Cardarella says, “These particles may not be visible to the naked eye, but can easily enter your respiratory system.”
But while HEPA filters are great for dust particles, they do not capture vapor molecules, which are thousands of times smaller than the tiniest dust particle. This is where activated charcoal (also called activated carbon) comes into play. A special process creates an extremely porous and super-absorbent material that captures vapors in tiny crevices. These units usually have several blower speeds; a higher speed rushes by too quickly for the activated charcoal to do its job, so choose a slower speed for more efficient absorption. Schoon says, “I recommend that the unit have a four-inch-thick bed of activated charcoal, which weighs a bit more than five pounds.”
The combination of activated charcoal and HEPA filters is ideal. Activated charcoal can work with an outdoor venting system or a portable air cleaner. Also, a HEPA prefilter is essential because dust can clog up the activated charcoal bed or filter, making it useless.
Finally, watch out for air cleaners that claim to remove odors using “ozone air”—otherwise called “pure air,” “activated or energized oxygen” or “triatomic air.” They wrongly suggest that ozone is a healthy or safe form of oxygen. Even in tiny amounts, ozone is a hazardous air contaminant and should be avoided.