What You Need To Know Before Applying Nail Polish
With so many nail polish products out there, it is good to know how to spot the ones that may be toxic.
Erin Russell

Jelly. Matte. Chrome. Creme. Glitter. Flakie. Holographic. Duochrome. The list goes on and on. With so many different types of nail polishes to choose from today, we tend to focus more on what the polish looks like on our nails instead of what is actually inside the formulas. Recent investigations show nail polishes to contain several different chemicals that could be harmful to our health.

Your Polish Could Be Toxic


China was one of the first places nail polish was used, and it dates back all the way to 3000 BC. In those days, nail polish was made of beeswax, egg whites, gelatin, and vegetable dyes according to Good Housekeeping. Today though, there are far more sinister ingredients hidden inside those glass bottles.

In 2015, Duke University and the Environmental Working Group conducted a study on chemicals found in popular nail polish brands such as OPI, Sally Hansen, and Wet N Wild. Conclusions found the chemical known as triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) was seeping into people’s bodies 10-14 hours after they painted their nails.

TPHP is used in nail polish to make the formula more durable and chip resistant. However, TPHP is also used as a flame retardant and in the manufacturing of certain plastics. Studies have been conducted measuring the effects of TPHP in animals with results showing it to be an endocrine disruptor. This, in turn, caused the animals to have reproductive issues and inhibited the creation of healthy cells.

Dr. Heather Stapleton from Duke University said evidence against TPHP being harmful to both human and animals is mounting. This chemical has been found in over a thousand different nail products.

What To Look For


There are more chemicals than just TPHP that have been found in nail polishes. Other harmful chemicals found include formaldehyde (has been linked to cancers), toluene (can cause headaches and eye and throat irritation, and dibutyl phthalate (may cause damage to reproductive organs).

Before you purchase a nail polish, be sure to read the list of ingredients. Check out this ingredient list from Essie for the popular creme periwinkle called “Bikini So Teeny.” It contains two of the four chemicals mentioned above:

Ethyl Acetate, Butyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Propyl Acetate, Tosylamide/Formaldehyde Resin, Isopropyl Alcohol, Trimethyl Pentanyl Diisobutyrate, Triphenyl Phosphate, Ethyl Tosylamide, Camphor, Stearalkonium Bentonite, Diacetone Alcohol, Stearalkonium Hectorite, Benzophenone-1, Alumina, Synthetic Fluorphlogopite, Silica, Citric Acid, Tin Oxide, Calcium Aluminum Borosilicate,Calcium Sodium Borosilicate, Aluminum Calcium Sodium Silicate, Polyethylene Terephthalate, Dimethicone. (D44247/2). May contain: Mica, CI 77891 / Titanium Dioxide, CI 77163 / Bismuth Oxychloride, CI 15850 / Red 7 Lake, CI 77491, CI 77499 / Iron Oxides, CI 15850 / Red 6 Lake, CI 15880 / Red 34, CI 77266 / Black 2, CI 73360 / Red 30 Lake, CI 75170 / Guanine, CI 77000 / Aluminum Powder, CI 77007 / Ultramarines, CI 77510 / Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide, CI 19140 / Yellow 5 Lake, CI 42090 / Blue 1 Lake.

Ingredients can be found listed on websites and often on the back of the bottles of nail polish.

Alternatives to Traditional Nail Polish Brands


Sally Hansen is incredibly popular because of its lasting power and low price point. However, recently, more brands have been creating new nail polish formulas that do not contain any of these harmful chemicals. The only downside of this is these polishes tend to cost anywhere from two to ten times more than their cheaper counterparts.

There are many options for chemical-free or at least having chemicals in your nail polish. Popular brands include Zoya, Dior, Cรดte, and Deborah Lippmann.

Read all of the ingredients when you pick up a new color, and when you visit a nail salon, you can even take your own colors. That will save you from being rushed when you walk in the door to pick a color and protect you against any possible harmful ingredients in the salon’s chosen brand.

Finally, only purchase nail polish from a reputable website. Pay close attention when looking at websites such as Amazon and eBay as sellers may be offering old or counterfeit nail polishes. Old nail polishes can just be as harmful as those with chemicals, and counterfeit nail polishes can use formulas that are unsafe.

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Sources: [Allure, Beauty Editor, Chicago Tribune, Environmental Working Group, Good Housekeeping, Remedy Daily, Ulta]