Most people don’t think twice when putting on nail polish. Whether it’s the association of nails as inert objects on their fingers, or the thought that nails (unlike skin) don’t absorb certain compounds, people don’t really take what they put on their nails seriously.
Unfortunately, the nails do, just like skin, absorb substances that we put on them, and using nail polish is just as dangerous as putting toxic chemicals on your skin.
A study led by Duke University and the public health advocacy organization Environmental Working Group suggests that we absorb at least one hormone-disrupting chemical every time we get polished (1).
The study found presence of triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), an endocrine-disrupting chemical used widely in popular nail polishes in the bodies of more than 24 women. The chemical was found just 10-14 hours after the women had painted their nails. Their levels of diphenyl phosphate (DPHP) – a metabolite of TPHP, had also increased by nearly sevenfold.
“It is very troubling that nail polish being marketed to women and teenage girls contains a suspected endocrine disruptor,” said Johanna Congleton, Ph.D., MSPH, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the Duke-EWG study. “It is even more troubling to learn that their bodies absorb this chemical relatively quickly after they apply a coat of polish (2).”
More than 1,500 nail polish products, including those made by Sally Hansen, OPI, and Wet N Wild contain TPHP, according to the EWG’s Skin Deep database. What’s even more disturbing is that many companies fail to disclose their full ingredient list, so some nail polishes contain chemicals that we might not even know about. In the study, two of the 10 tested nail polishes that contained TPHP did not list the ingredient on their labels.
And it’s not only TPHP we need to be worried about. There are more chemicals hidden in nail polish that we fail to recognize directly impact our health.
Ingredients found most commonly in traditional nail polish are as follows:
– Butyl or ethyl acetate
– Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
– Formaldehyde (or derivatives)
Toxic Chemicals In Nail Polish
Although some of the ingredients are being phased out, most nail polish producers are simply replacing old ingredients for newer ones that have the same effects on our bodies.
In fact, Mentality Nail Polish recently went under fire for ruining people’s nails. The company released a statement on its Facebook page, telling users that the damage was just a “sensitivity” to Arminex, a new base ingredient used in the product. The company, after much debate, released a recall on all products produced with an Arminex base.
If we look back at the ingredients used in nail polish, we can see why they aren’t the safest thing to be putting on your body. Below is a description of what each chemical poses to the human body:
Nitrocellulose: the same component used in car paint, as well as in some explosives like fireworks and dynamite. This chemical is not “overly toxic” according to EWG, however, it can cause organ system toxicity (3).
Butyl/ethyl acetate: this chemical is highly flammable, as well as toxic when inhaled or ingested. It can also be seriously damaging to internal organs in the case of prolonged exposure (you know, like when you have nail polish on for months or years at a time without a break) (4).
Parabens: there are a variety of different parabens that could be used in nail polish manufacturing, and all should be avoided. Their function is to act as a preservative, and they’ve been linked to breast cancer (5). In addition, they prevent your nail bed from receiving natural vitamins from sunlight (like vitamin D), and oxygen, both of which are needed for healthy, happy nails.
Camphor: camphor is used as a plasticizer, rust repellent, and to prevent decay of dead insects in bug collections. It is poisonous, and can cause seizures, irritability and body toxicity (6).
DBP: this chemical is banned in Europe, and is known to cause reproductive problems, especially in boys. The EWG warns this chemical as containing a high “danger level,” stating that it can cause organ problems and endocrine disruption (7).
Formaldehyde: formaldehyde resins were very popular in nail polishes back in the day, and most have been phased out, but many companies still use them. It is commonly used in making paints and plastic resins. Formaldehyde resins can cause allergic reactions, skin irritations, discolouration and loss of nerve sensation. It is also a known carcinogen, so should be avoided at all costs (8).
Toluene: this chemical is known to cause reproductive harm and dizziness. The CDC warns that it can cause central nervous system problems (9). Not surprisingly, this chemical is also found in gasoline.
TPHP: a number of laboratory studies have found that TPHP exposure causes endocrine disruption. In studies involving animals, it has caused reproductive and developmental problems (am I surprised?) (10). This chemical functions as a plasticizer in nail polish, which makes it more flexible and durable. It is also used in plastic manufacturing as a fire retardant in foam furniture.
The best natural alternative would be to let your nails grow out naturally. Let your nails detox the years of polish and repair themselves, naturally.
Many nail polish brands claim to be safe and natural, however they don’t rank that good in terms of chemicals used. Although they are technically safer options, they still have some chemicals in them, and I would suggest to not use them all the time.
Here are some of the best options for non-toxic nail polish, according to Wellness Mama: