In light of some eye-opening NYT stories profiling the rather harrowing conditions of working in nail salons in New York City, it’s never been more pertinent than now as to why nail polish should be created with non-hazardous chemicals. In case you’ve been living under a rock (albeit a chip-free and fast-drying one), some of the long-term consequences of being around nail polish chemical fumes for prolonged periods of time include interference with reproductive hormones (which can lead to infertility and/or miscarriages), kidney and liver damage, and on a more immediate level, eye and throat irritation, dizziness, migraines, and dry, cracked skin. You may believe that you’re fine because you don’t use nail polish very often, or you use it in such small quantities that it shouldn’t effect you, but in conjunction with the many other cosmetic and beauty products you do use on a daily basis, damage adds up. With the popularity of nail art and the growing sales of nail polish (Americans spend over $700 million on nail polish products a year), nail care is one of the most rapidly growing sectors of the beauty industry.
So what should you watch out for if you still want to paint your nails every color of the rainbow and NOT possibly give yourself cancer? Lots of progressive nail polish brands offering safer nail polishes will advertise their nail polish as 3-free or 5-free, meaning it’s made without any of these five known toxic chemicals:
- Dibutyl phthalate (DBP): This stuff keeps the nail polish formula flexible and is the ingredient for a “chip-free” finish. It’s also the ingredient that’s most linked to reproductive issues.
- Formaldehyde: This is a preservative, sterilizer, and an embalming chemical (used to embalm dead bodies) as well as a known carcinogen. This makes your nail polish harden and keeps it fresh for a long time.
- Toluene: This is a petroleum/coal tar derived chemical that’s meant to keep your polish smooth. Chronic exposure is linked to anemia, liver, and kidney damage, decreased blood cell count, and it can affect a developing fetus.
- Formaldehyde Resin: This is a derivative of Formaldehyde that may be slightly less toxic but is still a carcinogen and allergen. It’s included to harden and smooth the nail polish.
- Camphor: This is a plasticizer that makes polish flexible. It’s also a neurotoxin, which can cause seizures if ingested (nail biters, looking at you!) and liver damage when absorbed into the skin.
The “toxic trio” are the first three in this list, with many brands leaving them out of their nail polish formulas. However, as more beauty brands progress, they’ve moved to leave out all five of these chemicals. There are tons of nail polishes out there that don’t have these ingredients that are not only known to be hazardous, but aren’t actually necessary to give you great color and finish.