Nail Polish Nightmare: That Shiny New Color Probably Contains Toxins

October 9, 2015

In some ways, an obsession with spa pedicures might almost seem healthy.

Slipping away from the office for an hour perched in a massage chair, feet soaking in warm, scented water can be a much needed respite from a hectic day. This has got to be good for your mental health. Right?

As relaxing as it might be, your mani and pedi habit could be endangering your health. And the reason why has nothing to do with the spa treatment itself—it’s all to do with that lustrous lacquer the nail artist uses.

Drugstore nail polishes often contain three chemicals that the Environmental Working Group calls the “toxic trio“: formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate. And according to EWG, these three chemicals can have some gnarly side effects.

The developmental and reproductive toxin toluene has been linked to headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen and has been shown to irritate the eyes, skin, nose, and throat. Dibutyl phthalate—another developmental and reproductive toxin—can hamper the function of the thyroid and has been linked to reproductive problems in baby boys whose mothers have been exposed.

This laundry list of unfortunate side effects linked to nail polish doesn’t stop there. For pregnant women, it may be even more dangerous to use a chemical-laden polish. After all, your health isn’t the only thing you have to worry about during pregnancy—anything you’re exposed to can also affect your little one.

Most experts agree that painting your nails every now and then with a “three-free” natural polish is probably fine. Just don’t make the nail salon a second home.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to deal with plain nails for the rest of your life. Instead, choose a natural nail polish free of these concerning chemicals. Opening a window or starting a fan while painting your nails will also help disperse the strong fumes—and prevent you from inhaling them.

Before applying nail polish—or any beauty product, for that matter—make sure you know what’s in it. Check the ingredients for formaldehydetoluene,  dibutyl phthalate, or any of their aliases. As long as you choose a safe polish option, there’s no reason to abandon your love of polished, pretty nails!

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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