Ditch Your Toxic Nail Polish

“When it comes to profit over safety, profit usually wins.”

~ James Frazee

It’s officially spring today which most definitely means that we will start seeing shorter skirts and open-toe sandals.

Most women refuse to show their toes in public without getting the first pedicure of the season. Showing your toes fresh out of winter hibernation without that shiny coat of paint is like walking out the door first thing in the morning without any clothes on. We feel naked. Transparent. We need that cloak of confidence and apparently, painted toes will give us that.

I know. You love your pretty nails. They’re a creative form of self-expression. And who doesn’t like retreating from the hustle and bustle of their hectic life to be pampered in the sanctuary of a nail salon? Believe me, I didn’t want to give that up either.

After having worn nail polish for most of my adult life, it was strange to question what seemed like an innocent part of my beauty routine. But when I finally took a close look at the ingredients that went into making my favourite nail polish, I was alarmed.

Being health-conscious, I knew about eating well and exercising regularly, but could my shiny red toes actually be sabotaging my health in other ways?

It Wasn’t Always This Way

Polish has existed in China since about 3000 BC, back when they were made with natural ingredients like beeswax, egg whites, gelatin, vegetable dyes and gum Arabic.

Today, modern day nail polish is loaded with crazy toxic chemicals. They’re known to be more toxic than house paint and contain human carcinogens. They also contain hormone-disrupting chemicals that can contribute towards a host of health issues such as infertility, hormone-related cancers like breast and ovarian cancer, prostate conditions, thyroid disorders, neurological issues, diabetes and even obesity¹

There’s no way to dress it up, folks. Nail polish is toxic goop.

The Tarnish In Varnish

If you’re a nail polish lover, listen up.

Many popular nail polishes on the market today still contain the top three toxic chemicals considered to be some of the more potent concoction of toxins of all cosmetics and personal care products out there.

Known as the “toxic trio”, these include dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene and formaldehyde – all known carcinogens.

Here’s a more complete list of common toxic nail polish ingredients:

1. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) [pronounced ‘tha-late’, ph is silent]

Linked to infertility, birth defects and loss, uterine and testicular cancer, disrupts hormones, thyroid function and in utero exposure is linked to reproductive problems in baby boys and decreased sperm count; banned in Europe due to its known effect of reproductive problems; a highly toxic plasticizer used to prevent chips and cracks.

2. Toluene

A known neurotoxin which can cause central nervous system damage, headaches, dizziness and numbness, dry or cracked skin, irritate eyes, nose, throat and lungs, damage to liver and kidneys, harm to unborn children during pregnancy; used to help the polish stay on the nail.

3. Formaldehyde

A known human carcinogen; can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and lead to skin irritation, allergic reactions, rashes and dermatitis; used as a nail hardener.

4. Camphor

Linked to liver damage; can trigger severe skin irritation and allergic reactions when applied topically; inhaling its fumes can cause nausea, dizziness, seizures, nervousness/irritability and headaches; sometimes used in vapor rubs and nasal sprays; used to provide that glossy, shiny appearance.

5. Formaldehyde Resin

Can cause severe skin irritation and allergic reactions, skin depigmentation and loss of nerve sensation; a by-product of formaldehyde.

6. Ethyl Tosylamide

Banned from personal care products in Europe due to its antibiotic properties and concern over antibiotic resistance; a plasticizer used to transform polish from drippy to dry quickly.

7. Xylene

Toxic to blood, liver, kidneys and nervous system; can cause headaches, dizziness and tremors; a solvent that keeps nail polish from getting gloppy.

8. Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP)

Disrupts hormone regulation, metabolism and reproductive systems; used as a fire retardant and plasticizer to make polish flexible and durable.

9. Parabens

A preservative that mimics the hormone estrogen; linked to cancer.

10. Fragrances (Parfum)

A blanket term for over 3000 unidentified mixture of ingredients; linked to cancer, birth defects, headaches, respiratory ailments like asthma and sinus irritation and triggers allergic skin reactions.

11. Animal Derived Or Tested Ingredients

Now if you think that it can’t be as hazardous to our health because we’re only putting it on our body instead of in it, think again. The harmful toxic ingredients can still get absorbed into our body through the skin within as little as two hours of application.²

They can also get into the bloodstream and damage the nervous system, lungs, liver, heart and kidneys causing permanent injury when inhaled (like being in a closed room or nail salon during application). They can also be ingested when we bite our nails.

It pains me when I see little kids with painted nails. They’re always putting their fingers in their mouths. They chew on their nails. They ingest these toxic chemicals. They aren’t aware of the harm these products do to their little bodies. They don’t know any better. But you do. As a parent, it’s my obligation to educate myself on these products to ensure that they’re safe to use on myself and especially on my kids. After all, you wouldn’t knowingly slather formaldehyde on your body (I would hope), so why paint them on your fingers and toes?

Safer Alternatives

The bottom line is that it’s not possible to make nail polish without chemicals. There is no such thing as 100%, chemical-free nail polish. Even polishes marketed as being “vegan”, “non-toxic”, “water-based”, “eco-friendly”, “organic” or “10-free” (where the top 10 hazardous ingredients have been removed) still contain a number of other synthetic chemicals such as acetates, alcohols, chemical dyes and more that are harmful to your health. Of course the best solution is to avoid using nail polish altogether.

But if you’re not ready to ditch your traditional polish yet, here are some safer tips for a healthier planet and a healthier you:

Avoid Nail Salons

Do your nails at home to minimize chemical exposures.

Keep Your Room Well Ventilated

This helps when applying and removing nail polish to reduce fume inhalation. If you go to the spa (and bring your own polish), ask what type of ventilation systems they use. Or better yet, use only spas committed to using organic products exclusively.

Switch To Less Toxic Products

Start with nail polishes that remove at least the toxic trio, or “3-free”, as they are labeled, from their ingredient list.

DIY: Naturally Buff Your Nails

This strengthens and smoothes your nails by increasing circulation. Check it out here (note: I’d replace step #5 with coconut oil).

Adios Amigos

Up until just a few years ago, I had a drawer chock-full of nail polish. Every variation of red, blue, gold, black, purple, pink, glitter, neon, you name it. I had it. I could single-handedly have supported the $750+ million nail polish industry, if I could. But after learning about the poisonous ingredients, which I gleefully painted on my fingers and toes every summer and the significant hazards they can pose to my health, I finally discarded all my nail polish. Yep, every last bottle. Went straight to the hazardous waste disposal center.

And because nail polish isn’t an essential part of my life, I haven’t missed using it since.

If you haven’t already, are you willing to part ways with your nail polish?




¹ “Endocrine Disruptors.” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/.
² Hansen, Susan. “Duke-EWG Study Finds Toxic Nail Polish Chemical In Women’s Bodies.” EWG, 19 Oct. 2015, www.ewg.org/release/duke-ewg-study-finds-toxic-nail-polish-chemical-women-s-bodies#.