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

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Williams G.
Past Member 9 months ago

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

Magdalena J.
Magdalena C.about a year ago

Thank you!

Barb Hansen
Barb Hansenabout a year ago


Dana A.
Dana A.about a year ago

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

Kath P.
Kath P.about a year ago

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

Catrin K.
Catrin NoForwardsPleaseabout a year ago

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 !

Christie C.
Christie C.about a year ago

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.

Karen K.
Karen K.about a year ago

No nail polish for me either.

Theresa K.
Theresa K.about a year ago

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.

Sue H.
Sue H.about a year ago

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. ?