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Nail polish is usually one of the first makeup products that a girl uses. I remember painting my nails long before I ever wore lipstick or foundation.
Did you know there are toxins in nail polish, toxins that may harm your long-term health? Why are we letting our children play with these chemical concoctions?
Chemicals in nail polish are harmful to everyone who uses them, especially those who experience repeated exposure (such as manicurists, beauticians, or people who frequently have their nails done).
Luckily, over the years, nail polish companies have been replacing the harshest chemicals in their nail polishes, to help make them safer.
The top 5 toxic chemicals used in nail polish are dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, and camphor. There are also 2 others that have yet to be phased out of most formulations, these include parabens and Triphenyl Phosphate.
We will talk about the health effects of these chemicals below.
Toxins in Nail Polish - The Big Five
A known human carcinogen, formaldehyde is used in nail polish as a hardener, strengthener, and preservative. Repeated or prolonged exposure in the air or on the skin is known to cause cancer of the blood, throat, and nose. Other adverse health effects include asthma, nausea, fluid build up in the lungs and danger to fetal development.
The EU allows limited use of formaldehyde in personal care products, while Japan and Sweden have banned it altogether.
DBP is a member of the phthalate family of chemicals. It is used as a solvent for dyes and as a plasticizer to keep nail polish flexible. DBP is classified by the EU as a suspected endocrine disrupter and is toxic to reproduction.
Health Canada associates CBP with kidney and liver failure in young children with products containing phthalates are ingested through sucking or chewing for extended periods of time. Soft toys containing DBP have been banned in Canada, but cosmetics can still contain it.
Toluene is a solvent used in nail polish to create a smooth application and finish. It is also commonly used in nail polish removers. Toluene has a sweet, pungent smell. It is a moderate skin irritant that can cause dermatitis with prolonged contact.
Toluene fumes are highly toxic. Exposure to fumes can cause neurological damage, decreased brain function, impaired breathing, hearing loss, and nausea.
Low-level exposure to vapors can cause slight drowsiness and headache. At higher levels, irritation of the nose, throat and respiratory system may be experienced.
Look for nail polishes labeled as "3-Free" to avoid the above toxins.
A by-product of formaldehyde, this ingredient has not been studied as much as the above toxins, but early studies show that is can cause allergic reactions, skin irritations and loss of nerve sensation.
The fact that it is a by-product of formaldehyde is enough reason for me to want to avoid it.
This ingredient is less toxic than the ones above and is often used in cold remedies such as vapor rubs and nasal sprays. It gives nail polish its glossy, shiny appearance.
When applied topically, Camphor has been shown to trigger severe skin irritation and allergic reactions. Inhaling fumes can cause nausea, dizziness, and headaches.
Look for nail polishes labeled as "5-Free" to avoid the above toxins.
There are a couple of other chemicals used in nail polish that have yet to be phased out. These include parabens and Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP).
TPHP is used as a plasticizer and makes nail polish less brittle. It is a known endocrine disrupter; it messes with our hormones.
A study by Duke University showed that within 10- to 14-hours of applying nail polish, the level of TPHP found in participants urine increased by almost 7 times that of before the polish was applied.
A commonly used preservative in cosmetics, this group of chemicals has been getting a lot of publicity the last few years. Many brands are going "paraben-free."
Parabens can penetrate the skin and act as a weak estrogen in the body, potentially triggering the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers. Although there is no proven link between parabens and breast cancer, the fact that parabens are found in breast cancer tissue is concerning.
To avoid these chemicals, you need to research the ingredients of the nail polish you are looking to buy.
How to Reduce Your Exposure
- Use Less - only paint your toenails or your fingernails. Limit how often you apply. Only wear it for special occasions.
- Read Labels - use the EWG Skin Deep database to search for safer nail polish, or see our list here.
- Avoid Ingesting - don't put your fingers in your mouth while you are wearing nail polish. Don't chew on chipping nail polish.
- Avoid Salons - paint your own nails. Nail salons are saturated with toxic fumes.
- Avoid inhaling - apply nail polish in a well-ventilated room.
- Talk to your kids - teach them about safe nail polish usage.
Are These Toxins Worth Worrying About?
Some argue that none of this matters and that the amount of toxins in nail polish are no cause for concern. They say that the exposure is too small to matter.
I like to stay on the side of caution. These toxic chemicals are harmful to the environment, and they are bad for me, even in small amounts. Women and men working in salons are exposed to these fumes at a much higher rate. For them, it is important that nail polish is as non-toxic as possible.
Children and pregnant women also need to be protected from exposure, as they are much more vulnerable to the adverse effects.
What nail polish do you use?
Yours In Beauty,