Nail Polish Looks Amazing! But Did You Know It Could Harm You?

Written by Rachana C

Mani-pedi days – oh! They leave you feeling so pampered and beautiful. They surely do. I did say to myself on a blessed day, “I finally nailed the galaxy nail art,” and felt prettier than ever. Something just broke my bubble soon after. I looked at the ingredients list on the bottle and found a ton of them. It is then I realized how many chemicals we bathe in day in and day out. The number is just astounding. And what those chemicals can do to your health is even more appalling. Here’s a list of the most dangerous chemicals that you have been coating your nails with since forever. Though this might sound harsh, please go ahead and read what you have been doing to yourselves in the name of “pampering.”

 The Troublesome Trio

  1. Toluene – This is one among the three notorious ingredients that seep through the nail bed when you use the nail polish. Toluene is a chemical substance with a characteristic pungent odor. This solvent is used in nail polishes to give that smooth finesse that all women yearn for. While this solvent helps you flaunt your flawlessly lustrous nails, this is what it is secretly doing to your health – toluene is a potential carcinogen. Also, it poses serious health risks to the growing fetus when pregnant ladies use nail polishes with toluene. It not only causes neurological disturbances to the users but also irritates the eyes, throat, and lungs when inhaled. However, note that toluene is harmful when it exceeds the prescribed 50% concentration (1). This is usually the amount used in nail polishes, but many inexpensive brands go beyond the specified amounts. Be careful in choosing your nail polish and stick to renowned and trustworthy brands.
  1. Formaldehyde – Next on the list is Formaldehyde. Interestingly, formaldehyde is produced in our bodies, but in very minimal amounts. In higher concentrations, it is dangerous. This is used as a preservative and to make the polish hard and less brittle. It makes it last longer on the nails, preventing chipping of the nail polish. Formaldehyde is quickly broken down and metabolized both in the body and environment. Hence, only exposure for a very long time can pose threats to our health. Formaldehyde is a foe more to the workers in the salon or the ones involved in the nail polish manufacturing units rather than to the customers. Although, as a consumer, if you refrain from using nail polish that consists of formaldehyde, the very usage of this ingredient will be stopped, and you’d indirectly be helping the workers. Prolonged exposure can cause cancer or toxicity to the respiratory system and the eyes (2).
  1. Dibutyl Phthalate – DBP is a solvent that serves the function of plasticizer. This is again used to reduce the brittleness of the nail polish. DBP imitates the functions of the hormone estrogen in the body, causing hormonal imbalance. It is known to disrupt the entire endocrine system. Like the other ingredients, DBP is also carcinogenic. It can cause developmental disorders in children and can toxicity in the reproductive system (3).

Apart from the above-mentioned ingredients, formaldehyde resin (a derivative of formaldehyde) and camphor are the other harmful ingredients used in nail polishes. They are infamous for causing toxicity and irritation to the skin. Camphor, specifically, is not as deadly as the rest of them. But, inhaling camphor can cause accumulation of too much camphor in the body and can lead to headaches, nausea, and, in extreme cases, camphor poisoning.

What’s The Alternative?

Image: Shutterstock

So, after that terrifying list, you think I am going to say not to use nail polishes ever in your life again? No, absolutely not. You can take the following precautions to ensure a safe and happy nail salon experience:

  • Use a 7-Free Nail Polish – Essentially, a 7-Free Nail Polish is manufactured free of:

1) Formaldehyde 2) Toluene 3) Dibutyl Phthalate 4) Ethyl Tosylamide and 5) Andxylene.

  • Or, use a 5-Free Nail Polish if you don’t seem to find a 7-Free one. In these nail polishes, Ethyl Tosylamide and Andxylene are present, and the rest aren’t.
  • Or, even if that’s unavailable, go for a 3-Free one. The “troublesome trio” is not used in the manufacturing of these nail polishes.
  • Opt for a natural and organic nail polish or a vegan nail polish that does not contain more than 10 chemicals. At times, they are packed using recyclable packing materials. Also, they do NOT test their products on animals.
  • Keep going nail polish-free for some days periodically instead of loading your nails with colors and chemicals whose names we do not know of, let alone their hazards. Remember, our nail beds are one of the most porous parts of our bodies, and anything that goes on the nails gets quickly absorbed into the deeper parts of the skin.
  • Also, if you still continue to use chemical-laden nail polish brands, NEVER inhale the fumes of the nail polish for long hours. Plus, forget about your nail biting habit if you want anything to do with nail polishes. Consider using a mask to avoid breathing in the toxic fumes.

I have ruthlessly discarded ALL my nail polishes in the bin and ordered for a safe vegan nail polish after this reality dawned on me. When are you doing it?

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Twenty seventeen says Rachana Chandrasekhar is a content writer at IncNut Digital. Of course, twenty twelve thought she'd be a vegetable vendor in an Italian countryside. Don't be too overwhelmed if twenty twenty finds her basking in the raptures of driving the fastest car on some obscure racing course. May be this is what they mean by "calling" and she seems to have found it! Crazy and Whimsical is Her Calling.