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  • Writer's pictureSecond Opinion Magazine

Healthy and Happy Nails

by Abbie Burgess

Living in a culture that embraces cleanliness and beauty, it’s no surprise that women (and some men) turn to nail polish to beautify their fingernails and toenails. Polishes come in every color imaginable, at a variety of price points and with brands geared toward everybody’s paint preferences. From gothic black to shimmery and pretty, many cannot imagine their nails without the color and sheen of a polish. Come sandal season, manicures, pedicures, and polish are the norm.

Sure, having beautiful nails is fun, but at what cost? The ingredients of nail polish are slowly being uncovered, and they pose a real danger.

The Dangers of Polish and the “Toxic Trio”

The three most dangerous chemicals in traditional nail polish are toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and formaldehyde. All three of these chemicals are considered dangerous toxins because they are known to cause health problems in humans. Exposure is possible through inhalation, but is also possible directly into the bloodstream through the nailbed.

Toluene is the same chemical used to make plastic soda bottles, paint products, and gasoline. According to the EPA, toluene toxicity from repeated exposure targets the central nervous system. Common symptoms include headache, fatigue, sleepiness, and nausea. Toluene is also linked to cancer, cardiac arrhythmia, and may cause reproductive problems like miscarriages. Death is possible with high levels of exposure.

DBP is what makes plastics flexible and nail polish strong and long-lasting. DBP may cause reproductive problems, such as birth defects and cancer. The European Union classifies DBP as an endocrine disruptor because they suspect it affects hormone functioning.

Formaldehyde, often used to preserve dead things, is used as hardener in nail polish. It is a known carcinogen, or cancer-causing chemical. It can also cause irritation to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system.

In 2006, as the “toxic trio” made headlines, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics began pressuring nail companies to remove thesechemicals. Several mainstream brands got on board and removed one or more of the “toxic trio.”  However, a 2012 report from the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, in collaboration with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, found that these three toxins are not only in many nail polishes, but trace elements of the toxins are found in many polishes labeled as toxin-free. The report concluded that just because it’s labeled toxin-free doesn’t mean it is.

While the “toxic trio” are the big, nasty chemicals to avoid in your nail polish, other ingredients, such as fragrance, dyes, and phthalates, can also cause harm. Fragrance is often made up of a chemical cocktail, but because it’s proprietary, companies don’t have to list the individual ingredients.  Fragrances and colors could be hiding a whole slew of toxic materials.

Beyond the clear dangers to health, nail products also pose a real environmental risk. Products that end up in landfills can leak their toxic materials, causing groundwater and soil contamination. Nail polishes are paint, similar to household paints, and must be disposed of properly. Check your local trash disposal centers for policies on disposing of household hazardous waste.

How to Go Toxic-Free

Luckily for consumers, in recent years nail polish compaines have responded to push-back and reformulated their products to contain little to no toxins. But, not all polishes are made equal.

If you’re concerned about the “toxic trio” in your nail products, start by checking the labels. None of the “toxic trio” are banned in the United States (although some are elsewhere), so they may be lurking even if the bottle says “toxin-free.” You can also check The Environmental Working Group’s online database, Skin Deep, to see how your favorite brand and hue stack up. Beware though, it’s often difficult to get all the details on ingredients, so the grade might not tell the whole story.

According to Skin Deep, some better options include Keeki, Layla, Sally Hanson, Acquarella, Zoya, Honeybee Gardens, Scotch Naturals, and Priti NYC. Of course, there are others. If you do your research, there are plenty of options out there. So don’t fret, you can have beautiful nails and be toxin-free.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics says to further protect yourself from nasty nail products, make sure you buy less toxic brands, bring your own polish to nail salons, buff the nails rather than using polish or lacquer, limit how often you paint or just do your toes, limit polish exposure in children and pregnant women, and always use nail products in a well-ventilated space.

Another option is to forego the polish and embrace the beauty that is natural nails. If you do choose to continue adding color to your life, do your fingers and toes a favor and choose toxin-free.


Love This Stuff

So we have gladly tried all of the samples sent to us by these eco-friendly and awesome companies.  And I found that product lines don’t seem to cross over well.  One remover works great for its own polish but takes a bit more work with other polishes.  Some water based lacquers don’t smoothly apply to a different company’s base coat. Overall, try all of these products but stay with in the same family for the best results.

Pirti NYC

PRITI NYC polishes are ALSO 5 Free & Vegan, completely non-toxic, and are free of toluene, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, and camphor – all known carcinogenic ingredients. These luxury polishes are fast drying, chip resistant, contain a UV inhibitor, and are extremely durable and glossy.  Bonus: PRITI Princess nail polish is perfect for the hands of your tiny fashionistas.


Zoya also offers a checmical free nail treatment and remover system that smells good and works great.

Chick Nail Polish

Suncoat Nail Polish Stylish shades that are long lasting, natural and non-toxic.  These colors are made with mineral pgiments instead of synthetics and are free of formaldehyde, toulene, phthalates, acetone, acetate, alcohol and FD&C colors.  This is the first water based, odorless, eco-friendly polish that is peel away.  That’s right, no remover needed.  Apply. Enjoy. Peel off!  Sweet! If you want an eco-remover, try our non-toxic, vegan, gel remover that is made of soy and corn.

Scotch Natural Nail Lacquer

Our polishes contain none of the chemicals found in typical nail polish. We are “3 Free” as well free of ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, nitrocellulose, acetone, and heavy metals. We are truly non-toxic.

Bonus: Looking for a great option for your little queen in training, check out the hopscotch line of kids products!

HoneyBee Gardens

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