Can I ask you something? Can you do me a quick favor? It’s very simple – you just have to take a look at your hands and tell me what do they look like. So, if you’re a woman, your fingernails are probably painted with nail polish. Am I right? In many career environments and social circles, nail polish is seen as an essential part of proper hygiene and presentation. But this social expectation has serious health effects.
A recent study, conducted by group of experts at the Duke University and the Environmental Working Group and published in Environment International, has discovered that chemicals in nail polish can enter the bloodstream in noticeable amounts within as little as two hours of application. You should know that this study examined the urine samples of 24 women for diphenyl phosphate or DPHP, which forms when the body metabolizes TPHP, a chemical toxin found in nearly every person on earth. Within 10-14 hours of nail polish application, serum levels of DPHP had increased by nearly sevenfold.
The experts said that these chemicals can contribute towards infertility, hormone-related cancers like breast and ovarian cancer, prostate conditions, thyroid disorders, neurological issues, diabetes, and even obesity.
Johanna Congleton, Ph.D., MSPH, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the study said:
“Nails aren’t permeable to most molecules, but TPHP could be absorbed into the cuticle or around the nail. It is very troubling that nail polish being marketed to women and teenage girls contains a suspected endocrine disruptor. It is even more troubling to learn that their bodies absorb this chemical relatively quickly after they apply a coat of polish.”
They also make their way into the bloodstream after being inhaled (in the case of being in a closed room or nail salon during application) or being ingested (by nail biting). Well, even though the chemical isn’t a necessary ingredient, it functions as a plasticizer in nail polish to increase its flexibility and durability.
After this study, the same group of experts examined 10 different nail polishes for triphenyl phosphate, and discovered the chemical in 8 of the samples tested. And what they found – well, they found that two of the polishes that tested positively for the chemical did not disclose it on their product label. These brands were easily available in drug stores and beauty shops throughout North America.
Other Chemicals in Nail Polish
Here are just a few chemicals routinely found in nail polish and other nail products.
- Formaldehyde– you’ve probably heard about formaldehyde, right? Formaldehyde is a well-known carcinogen that can cause respiratory distress if inhaled. Symptoms of exposure include coughing, asthma, and an itchy throat. Asthmatic or people with other respiratory conditions should avoid exposure to formaldehyde when possible.
- Dibutyl phthalate – dibutyl phthalate is a plasticizer and solvent that is also an endocrine disruptor. You should now that chronic exposure through ingestion can cause liver and kidney failure in children. This means that you should be very careful.
- Toluene – toluene is a mild skin irritant considered a developmental toxicity hazard. You should know that this chemical is dangerous to nursing or expectant mothers, as it can absorb the bloodstream and find its way into breastmilk. When toluene is inhaled, the chemical can cause drowsiness, headaches, and irritation of the respiratory tract.
Who’s at Risk?
Many women around the world use nail polish. We all know that. But, the bad thing is that few people think about twice before applying. Many mothers even find joy in painting their child’s nails to match their outfit. Nails Magazine reported in 2014 that market surveys found that 97 % of American girls ages 12-14 used nail products, including polish, and 14 percent of all teens and tweens used them daily. According to EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetics database, more than 1,500 nail products including polishes made by Sally Hansen, OPI and Wet N Wild, contain TPHP.
According to this study, the researchers have found that each layer of nail polish increased chemical exposure, with clear polish (used as a base and top coat for the polish) containing the highest level of DPHP.
The eco-expert and entrepreneur, co-founder of the non-profit organization Turning Green, which educates teenagers about healthy and safe lifestyle choices, Erin Schrode said:
“It is alarming to think my ruby red nail polish could come with a side of toxic ingredients that could ultimately end up in my body. We cannot control far too many exposures to harmful chemicals in our world today, but each of us can become informed and spread the word, support legislation that protects our health, and make smarter choices whenever possible.”
How to Protect Yourself
Many experts around the world think that the biggest problem about nail polish is that labeling doesn’t necessarily reflect the contents of the polish. A study has found that even toxin-free nail polish may have high levels of these toxic chemicals. The famous scientist, Valetti Lang, acting manager of the Pollution Prevention Branch of the Department of Toxic Substances Control for the California Environmental Protection Agency said that the labeling does not always reflect the ingredients.
Rebecca Sutton, PhD, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group who reviewed the report, said:
“The bottom-line finding is we can’t trust the labels on some of these nail salon products that are claiming to be free of these toxic chemicals. These chemicals have well-established health concerns…this is not a minor concern for consumers.”
As we said before, there are many different reasons why you should avoid nail polish at all cost, especially nail salons, which contain high levels of toxic fumes. Instead, skip the polish and buff your nails for a natural shine.
This is also a good option – you can push back your cuticles and apply coconut oil to your cuticle and nail. If you’re desperate for a pop of color, here’s a list of non-toxic products you can try:
- Honeybee Gardens
- Peacekeeper Cause-Metics