Are you aware of what goes into a bottle of nail polishes? Some might not necessarily care, however I am guessing that as you are reading this article, you are some what curious. A variety of controversial ingredients are used to create nail polish, pressure groups have been trying to raise more awareness of this due to the effects that these ingredients can have on your body and the environment when regularly used.
Some argue that small doses of these ingredients are harmless and that fingernails and toenails are made of keratin, which is hard and largely impenetrable and the ingredients in the polish are not released into the air[i]. However some disagree with argument and also you may be like me and want to reduce the amount of synthetic or natural but harmful ingredients that you include in your daily or weekly beauty routines.
Fortunately there are many brands that cater to those looking for non-toxic nail polish. The Effortlist has collated a wee list to help you be introduced (or expand on) your choice of non toxic nail polishes.
Whilst there are a variety of ingredients that non-toxic nail polishes brands omit from their nail polishes (some brands have 8 free or more as you will see below), this article will focus on the main the main five, including the scarily named Toxic Trio (Formaldehyde, Toulene and Dibutyl Phthalates).
It’s important to note that generally, the sources I have read agree that all health risks lie more heavily with nail technicians, as they inhale a range of chemicals used in nail products for hours a day. These exposures can “add up,” especially when many products are being used at the same time, the products are used day after day, or when there is poor ventilation in the salon [ii]
Want to know more about the controversial ingredients? Then keep scrolling, However, if you’d rather just skip to the list of nail polishes then click here. Enjoy
There is a lot of literature that claims formaldehyde is included in nail polish. It is listed as one of the toxic ingredients in the scarily named “toxic trio. When you scratch a bit below the surface, you will find the literature that explains that it is not pure formaldehyde that is included in nail polish, its methelyn glycol which is water and formaldehyde gas mixed together. This is also sometimes called formalin.
Some argue regulations only allow for a small percentage of methelyne glycol to be used in nail polish, therefore the levels of actual formaldehyde gas in nail polish is too low to cause any adverse effects, infact they claim its the same level as you would find naturally in foods (iii) . Additionally, studies have concluded that methleyn glycol is not formaldehyde’s chemical equivalent (iv) hence it wont produce the same effects as if you were exposed to pure formaldehyde gas.
However, Michelle (who has a PHD in Chemistry by the way!) of science beauty blog Lab Muffin argues that whilst methelyne gycol is the product of mixing of water and gas ” the reaction is reversible – the formaldehyde can react with water to form methylene glycol, but the methylene glycol can also break down to formaldehyde and water again.” [v}.
I am left with questions such as what are the effects of regular application of this chemical?
It is widely accepted that formaldehyde is an irritant and allergin so you might want to avoid this if you have skin sensitivity or a known allergy. It might not actually be all that great for your nails. Its often found in nail hardener treatments as the formaldehyde bonds with the keratin that occurs naturally in the nails, making the nails harder. [vi] However, studies show that regular use of this “may make nails brittle and more likely to break or peel”[vii] Formalin cross links proteins in the the nail resulting in increase in surface hardness and decreased flexibility, which the user misinterprets as improved strength and durability. After months of continued use, nail hardeners may eventually increase nail plate hardness and ridgity to the point that brittleness becomes obvious. [viii]
Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) helps increase the durability of nail polish leaving you with a chip free finish, however it is also a known reproductive and developmental toxin” [ix]
DBP is often used to make plastics softer and more flexible, and small amounts are used in nail polish and polish hardener.” [x] Fortunately this chemical is actually no longer legal for use in cosmetics in Europe. it was banned in the UK in 2015. They used to actually use it in children’s toys as well till the 2005 ban [xi] however is still used in some nail polish the United States.
“Toluene is a BTEX compound commonly found in varnishes, glues, gasoline, and nail polishes, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). This petrochemical and neurotoxicant causes nausea, dizziness and irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs. Toluene inhalation during pregnancy has also been linked to birth and developmental defects.” [xii]
“Toluene enters the environment when you use materials that contain it, such as paints, paint thinners, adhesives, fingernail polish, and gasoline; it evaporates rapidly from these materials and becomes mixed with the air you breathe.” [xiii]
Camphor that is used in nail polishes is derived from synthetic sources. Unlike its natural tree derived counterpart, synthetic Camphor is used in nail polish and various sources claim it is a toxic chemical.