I’ll be the first one to admit, I like the look of nail polish on my nails. Sometimes I’m in the nude mood, other times I’ll go for an understated gray or brown, still other times I want to go a little wild with bright red or orange.
Nothing wrong with using a polish or lacquer as long as you are conscious of their hidden dangers. Skip the salon and use clean cruelty-free nail polish and you’ll be all set and guilt-free.
Is Nail Polish Toxic?
For me personally, what’s most important is to not expose myself to any cancer-causing chemicals and endocrine disruptors.
It turns out that a visit to a nail salon can be wrought with dangers, including exposing your nails and skin to cancer-causing chemicals and UV light and breathing in chemical fumes.
Several chemicals that are commonly found in nail products are known carcinogens.
These include formaldehyde, which is often used as a nail-hardening agent and disinfectant for nail care tools, as well as butyl acetate, a solvent, and ethyl methacrylate, the main ingredient in acrylic nails.
In addition to cancer, exposure to these chemicals can lead to central nervous system damage and reproductive harms.Cancer and Other Health Risks at Nail Salons
Not so pretty anymore, huh?
In particular, the gel and shellac manicures (I got a few of those in the past), can be dangerous.
Aside from the chemical overburden, the prolonged use of lightboxes can lead to skin cancer, unless the skin on the hands has been covered with UV-protective sunscreen or gloves.
“The risk of skin cancer from nail dryers appears to be low so you don’t have to give up your gel manicure,” … “But since your UV exposures add up over a lifetime, if you’re a salon regular, do what you can to lower your cancer risk.”MD Anderson
Common Nail Polish Toxins
Your typical nail polish might contain three very hazardous chemicals. Toluene helps achieve a smooth finish, formaldehyde helps to harden the polish on the nails, and dibutyl phthalate is supposed to moisturize but actually harms much more.
Here is what these ingredients can do to the unsuspecting body:
Toluene can have detrimental effects on the central nervous system and can lead to dizziness, fatigue, and headaches. It is also toxic to the reproductive system and can harm unborn babies if the expecting mother gets exposed.
Formaldehyde is a carcinogen. And, if that is not enough, it can also lead to severe allergic reactions including but not limited to acute dermatitis.
Dibutyl phthalate is a developmental and reproductive toxin. It is especially harmful to expectant mothers of boys, as it can lead to reproductive problems in baby boys and decreased sperm count.
In the past decade or so, some companies started removing these very harmful chemicals from their nail products. There are now many brands out there that are free of these three chemicals (including the leading brands such as Butter London, Chanel, China Glaze, L’oreal USA, OPI Products, Orly International, Revlon, Zoya, and a few more).
However, there is a new “bad kid” on the block, which is only recently receiving the attention that it deserves. It is triphenyl phosphate, or TPHP, a known endocrine disruptor.
A recent study by researchers at Duke University discovered that many nail polishes from mainstream, popular companies such as OPI, Sally Hansen, Essie, and others contain TPHP
Researchers tested the urine of 26 women volunteers before and after they applied nail polish. They were looking for DPHP, a different chemical created by the body when it metabolizes TPHP. They detected much higher levels of DPHP after the polish was applied.EWG
It’s clear that this dangerous chemical should be avoided at all costs as it can affect our hormones, our metabolism, as well as reproductive and developmental health.
So, what to do?
I do not paint my nails all the time. Using less, or alternating between painting only nails on my hands for a few days and then only nails on my toes at another time, can be helpful.
Due to the pandemic, I stopped going to nail salons altogether and just paint my nails at home. I don’t think I’ll be going back to the salon. The fumes and the UV light there are simply not worth it, even if I love the relaxing feeling of a good foot massage and attention while getting my pedicure:)
Even when applying nail polish at home, I always make sure to do it in a ventilated room so that there is limited exposure to the fumes.
Most important and the only sure-fire step to avoid the toxins, however, is switching to a non-toxic brand.
Clean Nail Polish
The market for safe or safer nail polish has exploded in recent years. New brands are popping up, and older brands are adding safe lines to their regular offerings. What exactly makes nail polish safe then? Most commonly, you’ll come across nail polishes that are terms 5-free, 7-free, or 10-free.
5-free refers to polishes that do not contain five specific ingredients: formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde resin, and camphor.
7-free polishes don’t have the five from above but they are also free of ethyl tosylamide and xylene.
10-free nail polish is also void of phthalates, fragrances, and animal ingredients.
My Favorite Cruelty-Free Nail Polish
There are also brands now that offer an even higher number of no-nos. Always vegan and cruelty-free, the brand I am using, Ella+Mila, is 17-free which means:
All ella+mila products are made WITHOUT: Acetone, Animal-Derived Ingredients, Bisphenol-A, Camphor, Ethyl Tosylamide, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Gluten, Glycol Ether of Series E (Gycol ethers derived from ethylene oxide), Nonylphenol Ethoxylate, Parabens, Phthalates (including DBP), Styrene, Sulfate, Toluene, Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP/TPP), XyleneElla Milla Website
I adore Ella+Mila and I believe it truly is one of the best vegan nail polish brands. The colors are very pretty, and there are 170 to choose from!
Some are shiny, some are matt, some are glittery, some are metallic.
The company also carries a line of base and top coats that I feel fine using without worrying about the dangers that would come from the direct contact with the skin and the nail bed.
Since I work with my hands a lot (gardening, formulating skincare, general house duties), my nail polish does not last super long.
It is not a gel polish that would stay until it gets removed with super-concentrated acetone remover. I’m happy if my polish lasts several days without chipping and this brand, like other clean brands too, does deliver in this department.
If you’re worried about nail polish toxicity and are on the look-out for a new polish, give Ella Milla a try. There is always a sale to catch on their website, but a selection of the products is also available at Target and Amazon.
Other Vegan Nail Polish Brands
There are a few other cruelty-free nail polish brands that I tried and liked as well. Here are the ones I can recommend.
- Olive and June
- Mineral Fusion
We went a long way since the old days of acetone and harmful nail polish. It is so easy now to stay informed about the potential dangers of toxic nail polish and to stay away from them. 10-free and vegan nail polishes are everywhere, they are not an expensive proposition for only a few anymore.
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Here are a few suggestions to get you started on the journey to healthier nail care.
Be informed, make wise choices, and stay healthy. Till next time!