How Safe Is Your Nail Polish?

As the world of beauty evolves, the United States has been lagging behind most other countries in terms of toxic-free products and regulations. The EPA actually classifies nail polish as hazardous waste…these toxic ingredients can be absorbed into your body through the nail plate (and mouth if you bite your nails). Plus, you’re inhaling some of the fumes while you’re polishing.

Nail polish can also contain some pretty intense allergens. We can almost guarantee you know at least two people who are allergic to nail polish. Hannah definitely is. And even if you don’t, we can assure you that it truly sucks. Everyone deserves the right to rock a little color and feel fancy without putting their body at risk!

While Europe has banned over 1,400 harmful ingredients, Canada has banned around 600, the United States has banned only 30… Most of these banned ingredients can cause serious health risks and intense allergic reactions. In the past few recent years several brands have come out with “#-free” polishes. The # indicating how many common toxic ingredients it was free of.

The first three toxic ingredients that reached the industry chopping block are:

  • Toluene – A chemical known to affect the central nervous system and can cause headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. It can also possibly cause reproductive harm and developmental toxin. It is also found in gasoline.

  • Formaldehyde – This known carcinogen is found in many nail polishes and beauty products (remember that keratin treatment you splurged on? Girl.) You might recognize the name from what they use to preserve dead stuff. Unsurprisingly, it can aggravate the eyes, nose, and throat, and lead to skin irritation and allergic rashes.

  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) – Banned in Europe, DBP is a developmental and reproductive toxin. Exposure can affect thyroid function and is linked to reproductive problems, especially in baby boys. The Environmental Working Group classifies this chemical at the highest danger level and warns that it can cause organ problems and endocrine disruption.

Other nasties that brands are now trying to avoid include but are not limited to:

  • Formaldehyde resin – Suspected to be an environmental toxin, it is considered a human toxin and has highly allergic effects.

  • Camphor – Known as an endocrine disruptor and to cause concerns of thyroid toxicity.

  • Ethyl tosylamide – This chemical has already been barred from personal care products in Europe due to its antibiotic properties and concern over antibiotic resistance.

  • Xylene – A known allergen and possible carcinogen.

  • Triphenyl phosphate – A chemical used in flame retardant now known to cause serious health risks. Originally used to replace DBP but found to be linked to endocrine disruption, and neurotoxicity.

  • Parabens – A more common “no-no” in the beauty industry these days. These estrogen-mimicking preservatives may trigger major health concerns like hormonal problems.

  • Acetone – A known human respiratory irritant toxicant that can lead to eye irritation.

With new brands coming out all the time and older brands making the switch to “cleaner” ingredients, we don’t have much excuse to continue poisoning ourselves. We took an in-depth look into the colorful world of nail polish to see which brands have got the others beat.

*Pro tip* All nail polishes have more longevity when you use a base coat and top coat. This is especially true when using natural polishes.

Zoya - Probably one of the most accessible clean polish to find in a nail salon. Formulated without formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, camphor, tphp, parabens, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, and lead.

RGB – They took out all the harsh stuff to create formulas without chemicals like acetone, TPHP, & formaldehyde (and that's only naming a few) but of course, nail color still has some chemicals, they just aren't harmful (it's got to dry, right?) no nail polish is chemical free. Vegan, cruelty free, gluten free, fair trade. Quickly becoming a favorite in the natural nail scene, see if they’re at a salon near you here.

Flora 1761 – Inspired by the elegance of flowers and botanicals, this female owned brand donates a portion of their profits to a respected women’s charity. 8 free, vegan cruelty free, made without Formaldehyde, Toluene, DBP, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, Xylene, Ethyl Tosylamide, Triphenyl Phosphate, and Parabens.

Tenoverten – Rid of formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, and triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), making them 8-free. tenoverten products are also cruelty free, vegan, and made in the USA in a factory that honors the Leaping Bunny Program manifesto. They have salons in a few big cities, see if there’s one near you here.

LVX – Straight off the runway, they collaborate with designers to morph beauty and fashion into one. A sustainable and award winning gel-like formula that goes on smooth and creamy. Formulated without the use of Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, DBP, Toluene, Camphor, Xylene & Parabens. LVX is TPHP free, cruelty free, vegan, and Gluten Free. Find them in a salon near you.

So should you switch to “7,8,9, or 10-free” polish? Absolutely. After all, you deserve to be healthy.


cover photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

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