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toxins in nail polish


Nail polish has been around forever. As a result, decorating nails can be dated right back to the bronze age. And, it’s still as popular as ever. However, nowadays, we have an overload of toxins in nail polish.

Many people are not aware of the many harmful ingredients that are added to nail polish. Some of these ingredients can be harmful and cause damage to the inside and outside of our body. Ever wonder why nail technicians in the nail bars wear masks? It’s because of their exposure to the chemicals from the nail treatments they are giving for hours on end daily.

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why so many toxins?

So, why are all of these harmful ingredients being added to our nail polish? Mainly expense and ease of access. Natural safer alternatives cost a little more as they’re not mass mined, and not as easy to get. Some of the solvents added such as toluene or isopropyl alcohol help the polish go on smoothly and evenly, and they help with it quick drying. Other harmful ingredients like formaldehyde help with the hardening of the polish, making it last longer, and less prone to chip.

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On a more positive note, there are many natural nail polish brands. And more brands are starting to make an effort in making there nail polishes less harmful. Most of these brands that offer natural alternatives will state that they’re 3-free, 5-free, 7-free or 10-free. This means that they have left out either three of the main toxic ingredients, 5,7 or 10. I believe gradually more companies will take note and start making there polishes safer for the user. Because right now, people are noticing the toxins in their products, and the harmful effects they can have.

Here are a few natural nail polish brands available on

Let’s take a look at the toxic ingredients to avoid when buying nail polish.


1. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is used as a hardening agent. It’s also a strong preservative and will prevent bacteria growth. The problem is formaldehyde can cause serious harm to human health. Another problem is that formaldehyde lingers in the body for a long time. It’s carcinogenic and has been linked to many cancers. It may also cause allergic reactions, asthma, nausea, internal toxicity and even miscarriages. Formaldehyde should not be used when pregnant or trying to conceive.

Formaldehyde can go by many different names:

  • DMDM hydantoin
  • Formalin
  • Formic Aldehyde
  • Glyoxal
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Methanal
  • Methanendiol
  • Methyl Aldehyde
  • Methylene Glycol
  • Quatermium-15

2. toluene

Toluene is a paint thinner, and is used in nail polish and removers. It enables the polish to be applied smoothly and evenly. Like formaldehyde, toluene is carcinogenic and can cause serious harm to human health. It has been proven as a powerful neurotoxin that can cause neurological damage, impaired breathing, decreased brain function and can have severe effects on reproductive health. Toluene should definitely be avoided when pregnant, as it can cause severe birth defects and miscarriage.

3. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)

Dibutyl phthalate is used as a hardening agent and helps to prevent the polish from chipping. It also helps to give nail polish a smooth shiny finish. However, DBP is a known endocrine disruptor. It can also damage the liver, kidneys and reproductive system.

If a nail polish states that it is 3-free, it will usually be free from the above three toxic ingredients. These three ingredients are known as the toxic trio, and should definitely be avoided.

other ingredients to avoid in nail polish

4. camphor

Camphor gives nail polish a shiny high gloss appearance. It originates from the wood of the camphor tree, but now we also have synthetic versions being used. Camphor has been shown to cause severe allergic reactions. Even just inhaling this chemical can cause headaches, dizziness and nausea. It can also cause organ toxicity and has been shown to damage liver function.

5. xylene

Xylene can also be found in paint thinners. You will find this solvent in nail polish removers as well as nail polishes. It’s used to help prevent the grainy effect you get when the polish dries too quickly. Just low level usage can cause headaches and nausea. Higher levels can cause respiratory, kidney and gastrointestinal toxicity. It can be an irritant to the eyes, skin and lungs.

6. triphenylphosphate (TPHP)

Triphenylphosphate is used in nail polish to improve flexibility and durability. It is also used to make plastic and to prevent foam furniture from catching fire. TPHP is a known endocrine disruptor and regular use can lead to reproductive system damage.

7. colophonium

Colophonium is a resin derived from pine trees. It’s added to nail polish as it adds a protective glossy finish. It can also be found in plastics, varnishes, wax and adhesives. Colophonium can cause contact allergy and allergic contact dermatitis. It can also cause respiratory problems.

8. organic halides (AOX)

Organic halides are solvents, and can be found in thinners. They are carcinogenic and have been linked to nerve damage.

9. silicone

Silicone ingredients are added to nail polishes to help with a faster drying process. They have been linked to causing allergy problems.

10. parabens

Parabens are used as preservatives. They prevent bacteria and fungi growing in cosmetic products. The problem is parabens are harmful to human health. Parabens are carcinogenic. They’ve been linked to breast and skin cancer.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are many nail polish brands that leave out all of the above nasty toxic ingredients, and work just as well.

My favourite 10-free nail polish brand

Toxin free nail polishes

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