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Implementing a suspect screening method to assess occupational chemical exposures among US-based hairdressers serving an ethnically diverse clientele: a pilot study



There are over 700,000 hairdressers in the United States, and it is estimated that >90% are female and 31% are Black or Hispanic/Latina. Racial and ethnic minorities in this workforce may be exposed to a unique mixture of potentially hazardous chemicals from products used and services provided. However, previous biomonitoring studies of hairdressers target a narrow list of compounds and few studies have investigated exposures among minority hairdressers.


To assess occupational chemical exposures in a sample of US-based Black and Latina hairdressers serving an ethnically diverse clientele by analyzing urine specimens with a suspect screening method.


Post-shift urine samples were collected from a sample of US female hairdressers (n = 23) and office workers (n = 17) and analyzed via reverse-phase liquid chromatography coupled to high-resolution mass spectrometry. Detected compounds were filtered based on peak area differences between groups and matching with a suspect screening list. When possible, compound identities were confirmed with reference standards. Possible exposure sources were evaluated for detected compounds.


The developed workflow allowed for the detection of 24 compounds with median peak areas ≥2x greater among hairdressers compared to office workers. Product use categories (PUCs) and harmonized functional uses were searched for these compounds, including confirmed compounds methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and 2-naphthol. Most product use categories were associated with “personal use” and included 11 different “hair styling and care” product types (e.g., hair conditioner, hair relaxer). Functional uses for compounds without associated PUCs included fragrance, hair and skin conditioning, hair dyeing, and UV stabilizer.


Our suspect screening approach detected several compounds not previously reported in biomonitoring studies of hairdressers. These results will help guide future studies to improve characterization of occupational chemical exposures in this workforce and inform exposure and risk mitigation strategies to reduce potential associated work-related health disparities.

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Fig. 1: Principal component analysis score plots showing the distribution of hairdressers (n = 23), office worker controls (n = 17), and pooled QC specimens (n = 18).
Fig. 2: Product use categories mapped to 13 detected compounds with median peak areas ≥2 in hairdressers compared to office workers.
Fig. 3: Number of compounds associated with specific Harmonized Functional Uses.

Data availability

Data will be made available upon reasonable request.


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We would like to thank the hair salon owners, hairdressers, and office staff at the University of Maryland who participated in this study. We would also like to thank Centro de Apoyo Familiar and the UMD H.A.I.R. network for their assistance with our recruitment efforts as well as our student interns (Lucy Aistis, Mireim Alibrahim, Ruth Cachola, Seyrona McLean, Surbhi Sardana, and Angela Sun) who helped with sample processing and data entry. We would like to thank the Johns Hopkins NIOSH-funded Educational Research Center and the Wait Family for their support. We also thank Dr. Kristin Isaacs from the U.S. EPA for assistance with the Product Use Category and Harmonized Functional Use data.


LQA was supported by an NHLBI Career Development Award (K01HL138124); MNN was supported by NIEHS Training grant (T32 ES 007141). This research was supported by a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to the Johns Hopkins Education and Research Center for Occupational Safety and Health (award number T42 OH008428). The findings and conclusions in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or views of the NIH or CDC.

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Authors and Affiliations



MNN designed and conducted specimen analysis, processed data, wrote the original manuscript draft, and worked on manuscript revisions; LKK assisted with data collection efforts and securing partial funds for this work, and worked on manuscript revisions; LML assisted with seeking funds to support this work and worked on manuscript revisions; LQA led the field work (PI) that gave rise to this data, including community engagement efforts, production of human subjects protocols, study instrument development, participant recruitment, biospecimen collection, as well as conceptualized and obtained funds for the present untargeted analyses; and worked on manuscript revisions; CP conceptualized and designed the study, obtained funds for the chemical analyses, and worked on manuscript revisions.

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Correspondence to Carsten Prasse.

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Ethical approval

All study protocols were reviewed and approved by the University of Maryland’s Institutional Review Board (ref. # 1076658–17). All participants provided written informed consent.

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Newmeyer, M.N., Quirós-Alcalá, L., Kavi, L.K. et al. Implementing a suspect screening method to assess occupational chemical exposures among US-based hairdressers serving an ethnically diverse clientele: a pilot study. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 33, 566–574 (2023).

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