Women's Health

Nail Polish May Contain Toxic Chemicals

Nail Polish May Contain Toxic Chemicals

According to a California report, some of the polishes and other products used in nail salons contain high levels of toxic chemicals, in spite of label that it is toxic-free. Scientist Valetti Lang, acting manager of the Pollution Prevention Branch of the Department of Toxic Substances Control for the California Environmental Protection Agency, says that the label does not mention all the ingredients of the product.

In this study, Valetti Lang and her colleagues bought 25 different types of nail polish from the distributors and sent them to an independent lab for analysis. All of the products were tested for the ‘toxic trio’: dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde. These three chemicals are of concern because of the health risks they cause, especially in nail salon workers.

When the presence of these chemicals was brought to the limelight, some of the manufacturers removed them from the product and labelled them as ‘toxic-free’. But the researchers found that some of the labels were not true. Lang worries that the samples they have chosen may not be representative of the industry. Some of the products did not have a ‘toxic-free’ label; still, they did not contain any of the chemicals in them.

Brad Masterson, spokesman Professional Beauty Association's Nail Manufacturers Council, feels that the report lacks a perspective and balance as most of the brands chosen for the study are not major brands and are not found in all the salons. Some of the products in the study are available via internet or through direct sale from beauty supply stores.

The researchers tested nail color, lacquer, top coat, base coat, thinner, nail art, and a top coat-base coat combination in the study. The focus was on the presence of toluene, a toxic chemical that may cause birth defects, if pregnant women are exposed to this chemical for a long time. They also looked for the presence of dibutyl phthalate (DBP), which is also known to cause birth defects in animals, and formaldehyde which is a known carcinogen.

The labels on the 12 products mentioned that the product is free of one, two or all three chemicals. The other 13 products in the study did not make any such claims. Results show that formaldehyde was not present in any of the products. Color Madnic Luscious nail lacquer and Zoya professional nail lacquer were free of any of the chemicals.

Some of the products that contained inaccurate labels include:

  • Sation 99 base coat
  • Sation 99 top coat
  • Dare to Wear nail lacquer
  • Chelsea 650 Baby's Breath nail lacquer (fast dry)
  • Poshe fast dry base coat
  • Orly Flagstone Rush nail lacquer
  • Nail art striper brush Magenta Glitter
  • New York Summer nail color
  • Paris Spicy 298 nail lacquer
  • Sation 53 Red Pink nail color

Some of the products without any toxic-free labels did not have any of the chemicals under consideration. A total of 13 products did not have any labels out of which five of them did not have any of the three chemicals. 

  • OPI Birthday Babe nail lacquer
  • Cali nail polish thinner
  • Essie Starter Wife 596 nail lacquer
  • Out the Door topcoat

The findings of the new study will provide information to the San Francisco Department of Environment's voluntary recognition program to provide recognition for those nail salons that chose safer product, says Lang. To be recognized as a safe nail salon, the salons must use products that do not contain toxic trio and other chemicals.

Masterson warns that The Nail Manufacturers Council does not approve inaccurate labels. The council mentions that none of the labels presented by DTSC present a significant safety or health risk. The council statement states that the levels of toluene and DBP found in the products are at a safe level as mentioned by FDA Expert Panel of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR).

According to Rebecca Sutton, PhD, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, the message from the study is that one cannot believe the labels on some of the products that are claiming to be free of toxic chemicals. “These chemicals cause serious health concerns”, she adds. There is greater danger for workers who are exposed for a longer period. She advises that it is better to reduce the number of visits to the nail salon. Pregnant women should avoid going to the salon.