How your nail polish could be damaging your health

Nail polish products contain, in varying amounts, many toxic and potentially hazardous ingredients. These ingredients can severely damaging our health because they can release chemicals into the air we breathe and into our skin.

Chemical ingredients in nail polish range from cancer-causing compounds such as formaldehyde to others that disrupt hormones. 

Researchers have identified the ‘toxic trio’ , toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) – for their serious health impacts of high concern for salon workers and consumers.

By wearing a nail care product that contains the toxic trio, the negative ingredients are absorbed through the nail bed. Hence, our health is affected negatively.

In addition,  only because a nail polish does not contain the toxic trio, it really does not mean it would not harm us at all.

Conventional nail polishes usually mix in other dangerous but less famous and harmful as the toxic trio chemicals, such as ethyl acetate, isopropyl alcohol, dyes and more.

Non-toxic nail polishes are typically labelled as “3 up to 9” free indicating the ingredients they are free from. The brands which describe themselves as “3 – free” don’t use toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) or formaldehyde. 

Some brands also describe themselves as “5-free” when they don’t use formaldehyde resin and camphor in addition.

The dangerous substances

Formaldehyde: gives resistance, shine and flexibility to nail polishes. They use it to make them last longer but can cause eczema, dermatitis and other skin allergies.

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP): is a highly toxic chemical ingredient found in cosmetics, particularly in nail polishes to prevent nail polish from chipping. It has been linked to fertility issues when absorbed through the skin.


When looking out for formaldehyde or formaldehyde resin, read the ingredient labels carefully as it is often labelled under a different name. What you need to look out for is:
Methenamine or quarternium-15, Diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, bronopol and imidazolidinyl urea.

Toluene is often used in nail polishes to give a smooth finish. This substance, however, can cause effects such as headaches and dizziness.

Triphenyl phosphate, also known as TPHP is added to polishes to increase their flexibility, as well being used as a fire retardant and can potentially be toxic.

Camphor is used to make the nail polishes glossy but when inhaled can cause dizziness and nausea. 

Non-toxic nail polish

“It’s important for consumers to understand that ‘n-free’ can mean different things to different companies,” said Heather Stapleton of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who commented on a study made by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

When switching to more “natural” nail polish products it can be difficult to find brands without the most common toxic ingredients. It is definitely worth purchasing a nail polish that is kinder to your nails and the environment.

Below are a few non-toxic nail polish brands but you are advised to do a further research into the ingredients they use before deciding to purchase (no affiliate links) :

Further reading:
https://www.mcs-aware.org/
https://stinkmovie.com/2019/04/27/avoiding-carcinogens-in-nail-polish-is-harder-than-you-think
https://seriouslysensitivetopollution.org/tag/environmental-sensitivities-2/

Photo by shutterstock.com



Elena Daniilidou

Passionate about cruelty-free living, sustainability and ethical fashion. Aspired to contribute to minimising human impact on the environment. Vegan and minimalist.

View all posts by Elena Daniilidou →
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