Immigrant women working in small, independently owned beauty salons in the U.S. endure a plethora of health challenges, a new assessment has found.
Silent victims: The thriving beauty service industry in the U.S., which generates over $62 billion in annual sales, has evolved from a high-end luxury service to an affordable option for low- and middle-income clients in the past decade.
The industry relies on the labor of predominantly Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Nepali, Tibetan and Latino immigrant and refugee workers. The industry’s success, however, comes at a cost as these workers encounter a range of health challenges in their daily routines.
Unmasking the truth: Dr. Aurora Le, an associate professor at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, delved into the multifaceted challenges faced by beauty service workers in an analysis funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene in August.
Dr. Le, alongside a colleague from the University of Minnesota, used a comprehensive research framework that scrutinizes the intersection of behavior, environment, culture and healthcare to understand how they impact the well-being of individuals.
What they found: The researchers found that beauty service workers encounter a myriad of workplace health challenges, ranging from the hazardous chemicals they handle to the physically demanding nature of their work. They noted that at the individual and interpersonal levels, these workers face an absence of occupational health services, training, low wages and limited workplace health promotion benefits.
This workforce remains hesitant to draw attention to these conditions, primarily due to immigration-related fears, language barriers and a lack of familiarity with American work practices.
What’s done so far: Community-based organizations have already stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering resources related to occupational safety and health. On a broader scale, the federal government has allocated funding to support outreach efforts aimed at Asian and Asian American beauty service microbusinesses. The move may influence states to adopt better workplace standards, including improved wages and training.
What else needs to be done: In Le’s commentary, she pointed out resolving the workplace issues facing beauty service workers requires culturally competent outreach and education that are delivered in their language and at their literacy level. In the community, resources vary by location, with cities housing more immigrants offering in-language assistance but primarily focused on healthcare and legal aid rather than occupational safety.
“Change will require collaboration by stakeholders who are invested in the community’s health and experts in areas such as business development who understand the context in which these workers operate,” Le explained in a press release. “That means that training at the very minimum must be available in the workers’ preferred language and that these employers need to gain buy-in on the importance of workplace health and safety.”