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How to Tell if Your Nail Polish is Toxic

How to Tell if Your Nail Polish is Toxic

Nail polish is pretty – pretty toxic, that is.

Why? Because many commercially-made polishes, base coats, laquers, nail art, thinners, and top coat-base coat combinations contain chemicals that have been linked to birth defects and developmental problems in children of pregnant women who have been exposed over an extended period of time. Salon workers are particularly at risk, but so is anyone who applies polish frequently.

Yes, the chemicals are present in very small amounts. But think about HOW you polish – you hover over your fingers and toes, probably focusing intently but also breathing in deeply. Because those chemicals are so volatile, you could be inhaling them with every breath.

Scientists and doctors are particularly concerned about three chemicals – dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde – commonly called the “toxic trio” by organizations trying to rid polish and other personal care products of these compounds.

Dibutyl phthalate is added to nail polish to prevent it from becoming brittle. However, it is classified by the European Union as a “suspected endocrine disruptor,” which means it upsets our hormonal balance and could be toxic to reproduction. DBP is also associated with liver and kidney failure in young children who have sucked on toys containing the ingredient.

Formaldehyde helps polish harden. It also causes cancer, plain and simple.

Toluene irritates the skin. Worse, it’s believed to cause developmental disorders. Inhaling toluene vapor can affect the central nervous system. I know it gives me a headache and sometimes makes me feel like I have the flu.

In addition, some manufacturers concerned about health and safety also exclude camphor and formaldehyde resin.

What can you do?

  • Read the label. Cosmetic products are required to have their ingredients posted on the label. Granted, you may need a magnifying glass to decipher the fine print, but take the time to do so. Look for those that say “three-free” (meaning free of the toxic trio) or “five-free” (meaning they also exclude camphor and formaldehyde resin) when you shop.
  • Polish less often. Use more neutral colors that complement more outfits so you don’t need to do your nails every few days.
  • Keep the windows open or polish outside. Polish your nails in a well-aerated place or outside, where fresh air will help reduce the vapors you inhale.
  • Choose a healthy, safe salon. If you can barely breathe when you walk into a salon, turn around and walk right out again. The salon should keep fresh air circulating and offer patrons nail polishes that are safe for them and the salon staff, too.
  • Find a safe nail polish and stick to it. There are several water-based polishes on the market and online. Once you find a brand that produces polish free of the toxic trio, stick with it. Take it to the salon with you, and tell your friends about it so they can be safer, too.

Related Posts:

Ecofriendly Alternatives to Toxic Nail Polish
26 Homemade Non-toxic Nail Polish Shades
How to Create a Spa Sanctuary

Read more: Beauty, Body Image, Hands & Feet, Make-Up, , , , , , ,

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Diane MacEachern

Diane MacEachern is a best-selling author, award-winning entrepreneur and mother of two with a Master of Science degree in Natural Resources and the Environment. Glamour magazine calls her an “eco hero” and she recently won the “Image of the Future Prize” from the World Communications Forum, but she’d rather tell you about the passive solar house she helped design and build way back when most people thought “green” was the color a building was painted, not how it was built. She founded because she’s passionate about inspiring consumers to shift their spending to greener products and services to protect themselves and their families while using their marketplace clout to get companies to clean up their act. Send her an email at


+ add your own
9:51PM PST on Feb 8, 2015

I had been looking around the best blogs site and now I’m on the right place, pretty wonderful!!
click here

12:50AM PDT on Sep 25, 2014

Thank you!

4:21PM PDT on Sep 5, 2014


10:44PM PDT on Aug 30, 2014

There is a little company called Snarky Lacquers..they use a five free formula and the polish is also vegan friendly. I have purchased a few things from them and was happy with the product. I found them on facebook

5:30AM PDT on Aug 29, 2014

If it smells going on and it smells being taken off it's toxic. Use a nail buffer instead.

2:51AM PDT on Aug 29, 2014

After all the toxic stuff that is in the air and food i am supposed to go into nail polish crisis ? Ain't going to happen !

1:54PM PDT on Aug 28, 2014

Like others have said, if it's nail polish- it's toxic.

Every jar of "natural" nail polish I've looked at has just as bad or worse ingredients than conventional polish. Why worse? Because a lot of "natural" substitutes are untested for safety (except the cherry-picked study done by the manufacturer), making you the guinea pig to test these new ingredients.

8:40PM PDT on Aug 27, 2014

No nail polish for me either.

6:24PM PDT on Aug 27, 2014

Or everyone can do what I do, which is buy Zoya nail polish. They're "five free", which means they don't have this crap in their polishes. There are a LOT of three and five free options out there. Google is your friend.

5:56PM PDT on Aug 27, 2014

Excellent reminders.... but you forgot to mention the toxicity of nail polish removers. I'm not sure why, but I never saw the point of nail polish so never bothered. ?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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Thank you for sharing.

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Noted, thanks.

Boston Terriers don't smell doggy either.

This is surely a very good blog, thanks a lot for sharing such nice information here. Simon A. Simon A.
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