Whether it’s shellac, acrylics, or a french mani-pedi, many of us wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without our toots and talons perfectly polished. It’s hard to imagine those colourful little bottles that make us feel so preened and powerful could be toxic to us. But commercial nail polish can actually be one of the most toxic beauty products there is, as most contain an array of harmful chemicals that are particularly harmful to children and pregnant women.
Formaldehyde is used in nail polishes as a hardening agent and preservative. This known carcinogen is also used to embalm and preserve dead things and when used in lab preparations and there are strict warnings to avoid inhalation and skin contact – surely that’s not a good sign!?
Whether you’re a home-pedi expert or your manicurist knows you on a first name basis, it’s important to know exactly what’s going on in those bottles so you can be sure you and your loved ones aren’t at risk.
It’s easy to think that putting something toxic on your nails isn’t anywhere near as bad as putting something toxic on your face but you’d be wrong! Think about it – we scratch our eyes, lick our fingers, and chew on our nails making it easy for these toxic chemicals to work their way into our bodies. Have you ever suffered with swollen, itchy eyes, blamed your eyeshadow or mascara and subsequently binned it? Chances are, it was actually your nail polish! It’s true, wet nail polish is one of the leading causes of contact dermatitis around the eye area – and even if you think your polish is dry it probably isn’t! Nail polish may feel touch dry from as little as 1 minute (depending on the brand) but it actually takes 24 hours to fully dry so unless you avoid touching your eyes/mouth/skin/children for a whole 24 hours post-manicure, you just can’t guarantee you’re not spreading chemicals all over the place!
The Toxic Trio:
There are three main culprits found in many commercial nail polishes; formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and toluene. However more recently green beauty enthusiasts are starting to add another two ingredients to their ‘hit list’ – formaldehyde resin and camphor.
Formaldehyde is used in nail polishes as a hardening agent and preservative. This known carcinogen is also used to embalm and preserve dead things and when used in lab preparations and there are strict warnings to avoid inhalation and skin contact – surely that’s not a good sign!? While formaldehyde occurs naturally in the environment at low levels, 21 million tons of it is mass manufactured every year. When looking out for formaldehyde, read the ingredient labels carefully as companies often label formaldehyde under a different name in an attempt to disguise it.
What you need to look out for:
- DMDM hydantoin
- diazolidinyl urea
- imidazolidinyl urea
- methenamine or quarternium-15 (formaldehyde-releasing preservatives)
Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)
DBP is used in nail polish because it increases shine and flexibility – meaning it’s less likely to chip. Sounds perfect right? However, DBP is suspected to disrupt normal hormone function and prolonged, excessive exposure can affect fertility and cause developmental defects in unborn children. Plus, if you’re a nail biter you definitely want to stay away from this ingredient — DBP is known to cause kidney and liver failure if ingested for extended periods. Fortunately this chemical has (thankfully) been banned in Europe since 2003 however it is still approved for use in cosmetics in the United States, Canada, and other countries so watch out if you shop abroad!
Toluene is used to help keep nail polish smooth and even when applied. This chemical has been linked to issues affecting the nervous system with symptoms including dizziness, headaches, nausea, and eye irritation. Toluene has also been linked to birth defects and developmental problems in babies who were exposed to the chemical in the womb. Like DBP, toluene has also been banned by the European Union, but not by the United States.
Although formaldehyde resin hasn’t been linked to cancer like regular formaldehyde, it is a skin irritant known to cause dermatitis – remember what I mentioned earlier about wet nail polish causing itchy eyes?
Camphor, like DBP, can be used in nail polish as a plasticiser to keep the nail polish flexible and chip-resistant after it’s dried. Although camphor is naturally found in nature, it’s manufactured synthetically for the cosmetics industry and can cause nausea, dizziness, and headaches when inhaled.
Top Toxic-Free Trio:
Toxin-free nail polishes with formulas that preserves the vitality of nails and their natural cycle of regeneration, while offering impeccable resistance, ultra-shine, and a great selection of shades! Free from DBP, toluene, formaldehyde, and camphor.
Long-lasting, fashion-forward nail polishes that give flawless results with every application and a safe eco formula free from DBP, toluene, formaldehyde, and camphor.
High-performance 5-free formulas that provide flawless coverage and a professional finish in a beautiful selection of striking, sophisticated colours for the fashion forward, modern woman.
Don’t be put off by the price-tags. Nowadays non-toxic nail polish is just as good as, if not better than, the rest! They may seem a little overpriced but I’ve found since switching over to non-toxic nail polish that I’m not throwing away nearly full bottles of varnish because they’ve gone sticky and gunky after a few uses. There are plenty of beautiful shades out there that don’t mean you have to compromise on health or style, so pick a pretty shade and paint away!
Do you use nail polish? Have you ever looked at non-toxic options?
- Phthalates: industrial plasticizers in cosmetics. (2005). In EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Retrieved from http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/2005/08/25/phthalates/ [Accessed 09 September 2015]
- Dibutyl Phthalate. (n.d). In David Suzuki Foundation. Retrieved from http://davidsuzuki.org/issues/health/science/toxics/chemicals-in-your-cosmetics—dibutyl-phthalate/ [Accessed 09 September 2015]
- Marsman, D. (1995). NTP technical report on the toxicity studies of Dibutyl Phthalate (CAS No. 84-74-2) Administered in Feed to F344/N Rats and B6C3F1 Mice. In Toxic Report Series, 1995 Apr;30:1-G5. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12209194 [Accessed 09 September 2015]
- The “Dirty Dozen” ingredients investigated in the David Suzuki Foundation survey of chemicals in cosmetics. (2010). In David Suzuki Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.davidsuzuki.org/issues/downloads/Dirty-dozen-backgrounder.pdf [Accessed 09 September 2015]