Many manicure and pedicure enthusiasts cannot stand the smell of the nail salon, but never stop to ask themselves if this smell might be linked to toxins that come free with each session of nail pampering. Before your next trip to the salon or to your beauty supply store to pick up something that will make your nails shine, consider the downside to the fumes you will be breathing in during the entire treatment and the plastic coating seeping into your body through your nail bed.

It is reported that almost all brands of commercial nail polish contain toluene and formaldehyde. Many still contain Dibutyl Phthalate, although the European Union banned all pthalates from all of their cosmetics.

Here are a few facts about these common toxic nail polish ingredients:    


Toluene is a human reproductive and developmental toxin. It may affect the nervous system with symptoms like tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, and memory loss. It is thought to cause liver damage and skin irritation. In high levels it may affect the kidneys. Toluene has been linked to birth defects in laboratory animals.


Formaldehyde is a carcinogen and a common indoor air pollutant because its resins are used in many construction materials. Formaldehyde has caused cancer in the nose and throats of lab animals. Inhaling the fumes can result in watery eyes, headache, burning in the throat, and labored breathing.

Dibutyl Phthalate

Phthalates are used to soften plastic, and are known to affect hormone function. Studies have linked phthalates to early puberty in girls and low sperm counts in men. Environmental groups claim phthalate exposure may contribute to the rising number of uterine problems in women and testicular cancer in men. It could also be one of the contributing factors to a rise in infertility in both sexes. Repeated and heavy exposure to dibutyl phthalate may cause nausea and/or vomiting, tearing of the eyes, dizziness, and headache. Long-term exposures may cause damage to kidneys and the liver. Pregnant women must consider that dibutyl phthalate may harm the developing fetus and the male testes.If you have to choose a nail polish, try choosing a variety that contains the least amount of harmful toxins as possible. Always apply polish in a well ventilated area.

For the least risk, consider an alternative to the standard manicure with nail polish. First f ile, wash, and soak your nails. Then soften, clean, and shape the cuticles. Try soaking your nails in organic apple cider vinegar or simple warm water, and apply almond oil to the cuticle area. Buff with several fine grade buffing files (always in one direction, and only on dry nails) and admire your shiny, natural manicure. Moisturize your hands, and think about all of the toxins you just avoided. Beauty does not have to be dangerous.

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) adds flexibility and a moisturizing sheen, and helps dissolve other cosmetic ingredients. DBP is a reproductive and developmental toxin that has been linked to feminizing effects in baby boys

After discovering in 2006 that OPI nail polish — the leading salon brand — was one of the most toxic products ranked in EWG’s Skin Deep database of cosmetics products, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics took on a multi-year campaign to pressure OPI Products Inc. to reformulate their products using safer chemicals. We fanned out to nail salons, demonstrated in shopping centers, wrote thousands of letters and launched an ad campaign to convince the public and OPI that safer products are good for customers and business.

Though OPI was already making safer products for the European market as required by EU law, the company was initially unwilling to reformulate globally. Then, in August 2006, OPI announced it would remove DBP from all of its products. A year later, OPI announced that it would also remove toluene from its products, and was marketing a formaldehyde-free nail hardener.

Today, OPI advertisements proudly proclaim its nail polishes to be free of DBP, toluene and formaldehyde.

OPI competitors Orly and Sally Hansen followed suit, writing to us that they would remove the toxic trio from their nail polishes, too.


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