This article looks at the dangers in nail polish and how exposure to nail care products containing toxic ingredients can result in unwanted health problems. Plus, I’m sharing my favourite ways to reduce your exposure to harmful ingredients while still enjoying a beautiful non-toxic manicure as if you follow any of my social media pages, you’ll already know my love for a killer mani!
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. When used in lab preparations 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.
“5 Free” & the hidden dangers in nail polish
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 5 Toxic Dangers in Nail Polish
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.
Non Toxic Manicure Inspiration
When it comes to avoiding the dangers in nail polish, you may sometimes have to pick your battles. For me personally, I’m very very healthy – I choose to eat a nutrient dense, whole food, organic diet as much as possible (roughly 90% of the time), I exercise regularly, I don’t drink from PBA plastic bottles or microwave/heat up plastic containers and I never go crazy on the alcohol, so for me, I’m ok with being a little more flexible when it comes to my personal choice of nail polish. Below are my favourite options for a cleaner, safer manicure.
Jamberry Nail Wraps – £15
Perhaps I’m late to the party (again) but my friend Kylie recently became a Jamberry Rep and sent me a few samples to try. These nail wraps are cruelty free and made from a PVC sheet and acrylates copolymer as an adhesive (also found in most ‘clean’ nail polishes). The PVC part may freak you out, but from my thorough research I’ve concluded that while vinyl may not be totally “green” it is far less toxic than nail polish and nail polish remover so like I mentioned before, only you can decide what is right or you! I eat organic as much as possible, exercise regularly, don’t overdo the alcohol and use natural and organic skin care so I’m personally ok with using a bit of shellac here and a PVC nail wrap there and you know what? THAT’S OK! You are in charge of your body and only you can decide what’s right for you.
Learn more about the pros and cons of PVC here.
The Jamberry designs are incredible and they are so so easy to apply and look amazing. I can’t get enough of these wraps and I get SO many compliments on them! I love using the designs as an accent on my ring finger or thumb so one pack lasts AGES. I follow this method and just use my hair dryer to soften the adhesive before applying. I’m a complete convert and you can see my absolute favourite design “Hopscotch” in action in the header image above and on my Instagram page! Other designs on my wish list are; Dia De Los Muertos, Creme de la Creme, Countryside, Sweet Whimsy and Giza. Also, these nail wraps are great for kids, those with respiratory issues and/or auto-immune conditions as there are no fumes or strong smells (even the non toxic nail polishes and removers can give off some pretty hefty fumes).
Nailberry Fashionista was my first ever non-toxic nail polish I ever bought about 2 years ago, and the same bottle is still going strong! The colours that Nailberry do are gorgeous and they have this beautiful chalky finish that just makes your manicure look SO dreamy and elegant! Free from DBP, toluene, formaldehyde, and camphor.
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 that are contemporary and chic! Free from DBP, toluene, formaldehyde, and camphor.
Long-lasting, fashion-forward nail polishes that offer a HUGE choice of colours and a flawless finish with every application in a safe eco formula free from DBP, toluene, formaldehyde, and camphor.
High-performance formulas that provide flawless coverage (no more layering coat after coat for full coverage!) and a professional finish. Comes in a range of striking and sophisticated colours.
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!
Have you ever thought about the hidden dangers in nail polish? What are your favourite non toxic manicure must-haves?
Peace, Love & Clear Skin,