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:

12 Non-Toxic Nail Polish Brands
Ecofriendly Alternatives to Toxic Nail Polish

How to Create a Spa Sanctuary


Danuta W
Danuta Wabout a year ago

thank you for posting

Jetana A
Jetana Aabout a year ago

What a totally unnecessary product!

Angel W
Past Member about a year ago

i wish i could go polish free but my bails are awful looking

Clare O'Beara
Clare Oabout a year ago

It's all toxic; the plastic bottles and energy used in making and transporting this rubbish are all unnecessary. Don't use it.

Richard B
Past Member about a year ago


sheena a
sheena arsenaultabout a year ago

Thank you for posting.

Danii P
Past Member about a year ago


Sarah Grayce P
Sarah Grayce Pabout a year ago

I like nail polish but I want it to be safe.

Ellen J
Ellen Jabout a year ago

I use polish when I make cards. I think I'll go for doing it outside or having a fan blowing the odor and fumes away from me. Thanks for the information.

Sonia Minwer Barakat Requ

Thanks for sharing