Background: Although the literature pertaining to the cosmetology occupation and specific health effects, such as asthma, dermatitis, and reproductive function, has grown substantially, little information is available about whether cosmetologists are at increased risk of other symptoms compared to women working in other occupations. Thus, the purpose of this study was to determine if cosmetologists of reproductive age are at increased risk of self-reported symptoms compared to women of the same age working in other occupations. Methods: Data were analyzed from 450 cosmetologists and 511 women in other occupations, aged 21-55 years, in the Baltimore metropolitan region who responded to a mailed survey that ascertained detailed data on symptoms as well as usual work tasks. Results: The data showed that cosmetologists were at increased risk of memory and sleep disturbances, muscle weakness, throat irritation, and hot flashes compared to women of the same age working in other occupations after adjustment for confounders, including cigarette smoking. Among the cosmetologists, handling cleaning supplies; hair bleaching; use of straighteners, texturizers, or permanent chemicals; and several nail care work tasks were associated with one or more of the queried symptoms. Conclusions: Findings from this study suggest that, compared to noncosmetologists, cosmetologists are at increased risk for a number of symptoms reported to be associated with decreased quality of life. These symptoms may also reflect chronic exposure to chemicals that have been shown to be related to more severe long-term health outcomes.
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