Everyone likes to have pretty nails. All of my childhood, however, I dreaded painting them. Yeah, they would turn out well, but the process was such a drag. Especially when it was cold, or windy, or mosquito-y, or rainy. Because my mom was so sensitive to chemicals, nail polish was an absolute NO in my house. And so I would paint them outside.
But the excitement of painting your nails takes a drastic turn for the worse when itís so cold outside that your hands go numb in the process (conducive of many errors), or when itís so humid out that the bugs either (a) land in your nail polish or (b) decide to bite you when your hands are otherwise occupied with the painting.
Needless to say, I painted my nails very rarely. College is a bit of a different story. I donít have to go outside (huge plus), but the smell is absolutely terrible. In a dorm room where the window is blocked by the desk, it makes it very difficult to circulate the air at any time, let alone when the room is filled with nail polish fumes.
So my friends and I decide to paint them in the hallway instead. Much better plan. However, the smell is still absolutely atrocious! Between the nail polish and the remover, I get a headache almost instantly. A couple of weeks ago my three friends and I were painting our nails for a longer time than usual and we were going insane from the fumes.
I pulled out my bottle of nail polish to read the ingredients, typed them into the Environmental Working Group Web site, and was shocked to see all of the chemicals I was being exposed to. First of all, itís never a good sign when you have never heard of any of the ingredients on the back of the bottle. Second of all, itís worse when you look them up and find that four or five of them can cause pretty much every disease imaginable.
The chemicals in question? Ethyl and butyl acetate, dibutyl phthalate, isopropyl alcohol, and benzophenone-1, in addition to about ten other harmful (but less harmful) chemicals. Their poison? Cancer, immune system toxicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, respiratory toxicity, bioaccumulation, and endocrine disruption.
These chemicals rank, on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst, as low as 4 and as high as 10 in terms of health hazard (with dibutyl phthalate being the worst). No wonder we were getting such bad headaches!
Well, hereís a bit of good news: Theyíre making a lot of natural alternatives to this chemical-y polish nowadays. Unfortunately, I have never found the all-natural nail polish to be very good, and so I donít use it very often. However, water-based nail polish is a much more natural way to go than drug store polish.
Though not completely natural, water-based nail polish is 60-70 percent water, and the rest of it is chemicals like acrylic polymers that are there to harden the polish on your nail. Not great, I know, but definitely better. And use a natural nail polish remover! Those do work and are MUCH healthier than the acetone-filled remover of drug stores.
So I canít say that Iíve found a wonderful completely natural nail polish, but I can say that I am looking, and that I have found much healthier, water-based, phthalate-free polishes than the drugstore brands. Nail polish is just one of those things that is so dependent on chemicals that it is taking a long time for the industry to find safe alternatives that are effective. But hopefully an even better option will come along soon.
Note to self: Keep searching for the natural nail polish of my dreams.
Lily Berthold-Bond grew up in a chemical-free zone and has struggled her whole life to understand and accept this non-commercial lifestyle. Now a freshman at Tufts University, she has embraced her green life and hopes to share its possibilities with the rest of her generation.