Friday, January 12, 2007

Toxins in Nail Polish

I’ve been learning a lot about toxins in nail polish because I’m looking hard to find a healthy alternative for Julep guests. Most leading nail polishes contain three known toxins: tolulene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate.

Toluene is harmful to human reproduction and developmental. It may affect the nervous system with symptoms like tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, and memory loss. It is thought to cause liver damage and skin irritation. In high levels it may affect the kidneys. Toluene has been linked to birth defects in laboratory animals.

Formaldehyde is a carcinogen and a common indoor air pollutant because its resins are used in many construction materials. Formaldehyde has caused cancer in the nose and throats of lab animals. Inhaling the fumes can result in watery eyes, headache, burning in the throat, and labored breathing.

Phthalates are used to soften plastic (unfortunately often in plastics in products like teething rings!), and are known to affect hormone function. Studies have linked phthalates to early puberty in girls and low sperm counts in men. Environmental groups claim phthalate exposure may contribute to the rising number of uterine problems in women and testicular cancer in men. It could also be one of the contributing factors to a rise in infertility in both sexes. Repeated and heavy exposure to dibutyl phthalate may cause nausea and/or vomiting, tearing of the eyes, dizziness, and headache. Long-term exposures may cause damage to kidneys and the liver. Pregnant women must consider that dibutyl phthalate may harm the developing fetus and the male testes.


You may have heard that OPI has agreed to remove phthalates from their nail polishes going forward, but will continue to use tolulene and formaldehyde. Learn more at:

If you’re interested in learning more about what might be in your cosmetics bag, you can go to:

While I wonder about the impact of occasional exposure, I worry about the people (mostly women) working in this industry who have high exposure to these toxins for long periods each working day. Like second hand smoke - walking by someone who's smoking may be unpleasant and cause you to sneeze and your eyes to water, but breathing for hours on end day in and day out poses a different level of risk.