Is Nail Polish Harmful?

Is Nail Polish Harmful?

Erin Burt

I am a gal that rarely has bare toes. Red, blue, gray, and every color in between, I’m all about expressing myself through my toes. They are like underwear for some people—when they look good, I feel good! Unfortunately lurking within many bottles of polish are some less-than-alluring traits.

Before I get to all the fancy chemical compound words, some which may already be familiar, know there are various reasons toxic ingredients were originally added to your polish. Some provide durability and strength to the polish while others alter the smell or add to the shine of the finished product.

As with anything that gets a label, know there are variations on non-toxic polish. Some claim 3- or 5-free, but 7- and 9-free are more the gold standard these days. Many are now free of formaldehyde, toluene, or dibutyl/DBP. Some now also remove resin and camphor (5-free). Seven-, 8-, and 9-free remove are additionally free of a few (or all) of the following: xylene, ethyl tosylamide, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), parabens, acetone, and others.

Why care? Research has found endocrine disruptors like these may be responsible for a whole host of concerning effects including: reproductive issues, weight gain and obesity, hormone regulation, and aspects of development. While no age person would want these compounds in their bodies, they are especially alarming given how many children and teenagers use polish.

Far from an “out there” idea, research completed by Duke University and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found some of these toxic ingredients elevated in the body 10-14 hours after painting nails. To be clear, the chemical TPHP that they tested is also found in many other household products like as a fire retardant or in the manufacturing of some plastics. This is just another study over the years that speaks to the carcinogenic or otherwise unhealthy effects of toxic chemicals used by many nail polish brands.

If you’re ready to ditch those polishes with questionable ingredients, look for brands and colors that are 7- or 9-free. I like Pacifica and Keeki, but you can also check out EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetic database to evaluate the rating and ingredients of your preferred brands. Also keep in mind, some brands may have some colors that are 3-, 5-, 7-, or 9-free while other colors or types (long-lasting, instant-dry, etc.) are not free at all. If you want to become more involved, you can consider advocating by signing an EWG petition to remove endocrine-disrupting ingredients.

Lynette is a mom of three children from one year to age five. She has cloth diapered all three since birth and enjoys all things eco-friendly and mindful living.


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