Is nail polish toxic? This is the question I wondered when I had a headache just after my at-home manicure due to the nail polish smell. The bottles of conventional nail polishes contain more than just a pretty color; they are actually filled with toxic chemicals. Moreover, many nail polish ingredients appear to be potentially dangerous for our health. Luckily, not all cosmetics brands are selling toxic nail polish and now, you can even beautify your nails with more natural nail polish.
What are these toxic ingredients?
The heavy smell of nail products comes from a mix of alcohols, solvents and resins that give polish its ability to stick to the nail, resist chipping and cracking, and deliver a pretty color. The “big-three” are the most toxic chemicals beyond them. This toxic trio is composed of toluene, formaldehyde and DBP (Dibutyl Phthalate).
- Toluene – It is used as a solvent that makes the polish easy to apply. In high levels, Toluene may affect the nervous system and it is also suspected to cause liver damage and skin irritation. The amount used in nail polish is small and shouldn’t be harmful but California law requires companies to warn consumers about possible health effects due to the presence of toluene in their products: “This product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm,” the warning label says.
- Formaldehyde – It is used as a hardener for the nail polish. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen and a common indoor air pollutant. Inhaling the fumes can result in watery eyes, headache, burning in the throat, and labored breathing.
- Dibutyl Phthalate - Phthalates are used to soften plastic and prevent chips and cracks. They are known to affect hormone function and repeated and heavy exposure to dibutyl phthalate may cause nausea and/or vomiting, tearing of the eyes, dizziness, and headache. Pregnant women must consider that dibutyl phthalate may harm the developing fetus and the male testes. Thus, DBP is banned from cosmetics in the European Union but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has taken no such action.
If these nail polish ingredients are obviously damaging for health, they may not be harmless for the Earth too. Thus, the day you want to throw an old bottle of nail polish that contains the big three, it’s recommended that it doesn’t go out into the trash but to your city’s hazardous-waste collection facility, just like when disposing of house paints; because these ingredients are extremely polluting.
This is why you have to be careful when you buy nail polishes and consider choosing a greener and healthier alternative to the standard manicure. You can find some very accessible brands of nail polishes that are “three-free” such as Spa Ritual, OPI, American Apparel or Butter London Three-Free.
There are also organic cosmetic brands selling more natural or non toxic nail polish, completely chemical-free. Let’s make the switch to safe and green nail polish and give a try to these few brands:
Solvent Based Nail Polish: This polish formula uses safer chemicals like acetate. These nail polishes may not wear as well as conventional ones, but they dry quickly, smell and act very similar to conventional polishes.
You can try Zoya Nail Polish: Their nail polishes are not entirely free of chemicals; at least they are using safe ingredients. They come in over 60 colors. They are more expensive than drug stores brands but the nail polish ingredients are high quality and this is the reason why they cost more.
Water Based Nail Polish: The most natural nail polish created today is in water based formulas, it is even safer and natural than solvent based nail polishes. The acetate is replaced by water and natural colorings. However, plastics polymers are still used to bind color to the nails. There are few companies which are producing this type of nail polish: Suncoat, Acquarella or Honeybee Gardens.
It is particularly difficult to produce nail polishes without the use of some kind of plastic; this is why 100% organic and natural nail polish is not yet a reality. But, now you know that greener and healthier alternatives available. The choice is yours!