Nail Polish Safety

Choosing the right nail polish is about more than just color and staying power-it's about your safety as well. In recent years, several ingredients used to make nail polish have been found to have adverse effects on health, including cancer, asthma and birth defects. While many companies have banned the use of these ingredients, some continue to make and sell nail polish with these potentially unsafe chemicals.

The "toxic trio"

There are three ingredients causing quite a bit of concern in nail polish formulas, which together are known as the "toxic trio." These chemicals have traditionally used to make nail polish, and continue to be used by some companies, even despite concern about their safety.

  • Formaldehyde - More commonly used in embalming processes, formaldehyde also shows up in some nail polishes and treatments which are designed to strengthen nails. Long term exposure to formaldehyde can be dangerous, because it is a known carcinogen as well as an eye, nose and throat irritant. Continuous skin contact can also cause irritation or dermatitis, an allergic rash.
  • Toluene - Toluene is added to nail polish to make it go on more evenly, as well as to help it adhere to the nail. This same chemical is also used as an octane booster in gasoline fuels, and is known to be a nervous system toxin. Pregnant women are advised to avoid contact with toluene, because it can cause birth defects, developmental delays or even miscarriages in high doses. Other effects can include dizziness, nausea, headaches and eye irritation. Toluene is sometimes labeled in products as phenylmethane, methylbenzene or toluol.
  • DBP (Dibutyl phthalate) - DBP is sometimes used in nail polish as a binder, to give the color staying power. Animal studies, however, have shown a link between DBP and cancer, fertility problems, and underdevelopment of genitals in newborn boys.

Are these chemicals legal?

In the United States, cosmetic companies are not required to test their products for safety, which is why certain nail polish brands still legally sell polishes made with this toxic trio of ingredients. This is in contrast to the European Union, which in 2004 banned the use of any personal care product known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects.

Criticism from consumers, however, has driven many of the major U.S. nail polish companies to stop using DBP and other toxic ingredients in their polishes.

"Three free" brands

If you're not sure whether a company uses the "toxic trio" in their nail polishes, be sure to contact them or check their website. Some of the major brands who boast a "three free" status, which means free of DBP, formaldehyde and toulene, include:

  • O.P.I.R
  • Sally HansenR
  • China GlazeR
  • ChanelR
  • RevlonR
  • Orly InternationalR

And many more.

Safety shouldn't have to be a concern while picking out nail polishes, but luckily growing concern has caused many major companies to change their formulas and make them safer. Be aware of which brands use the "toxic trio" of chemicals when you're getting ready for your next manicure.

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