Effects of Nail Polish Ingredients

A facial, manicure and pedicure are all that a woman needs to pamper herself from a stressful week of juggling responsibilities at home and work. Some pink nail paint, a dash of top coat and your nails take on a life of their own. Chemical ingredients disguised in pretty colors on your nail polish can be surprisingly harmful and can lead to some serious health risks. Most nail care products contain toxic and hazardous substances that are silently damaging your health as well as that of individuals who work in nail salons. Here is what you must know about effects of nail polish ingredients, before you are torn between the shade of pink and red nail polish you want to buy.

The chemicals in nail polish pose health risks that vary from reproductive problems to cancer due to constituent agents such as toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate. This group of carcinogens are often called as the “toxic trio”. They have been nicknamed “toxic trio” because the harmful health implications caused due to the constant usage of these chemicals.

In addition to these chemicals, there are many others which are not only found in nail polishes, but are a staple of nail polish removers, gel polishes and other nail care products which can be a serious health hazard.

Harmful Effects of Nail Polish

Usually, nail salons do not have adequate ventilation which prevents the escape of evaporated chemicals into the air. As a result, these chemicals circulate within the salon leading to constant exposure to these toxic chemicals for the clients as well as the salon workers.

Despite being aware of the harmful effects, most nail care products companies use industrial chemicals in their products which go largely unregulated by government authorities. The end result is that most of the nail polishes that are available in the market are hardly tested for safety and are being used by most of us regularly. Many of our kids also apply these silent toxic nail paints that could produce health hazards.

Nail polish and Health Effects - Manicurists and pedicurists pay a huge price in terms of their health. Constant exposure to toxic nail paints and other nail care products can produce a number of health effects ranging from minor complaints like skin irritation, allergic reactions, nausea, to more serious troubles like respiratory problems, cancer and reproductive conditions. Recent studies also show that exposure to nail care products can cause uncontrollable muscle contraction and cognitive difficulties. Research shows that certain salon workers complain of breathing difficulties, headaches and irritations due to the solvents present in these products. Cancer and infertility are also becoming increasingly common in workers exposed to toxic vapors of nail paints.

Effects of Nail Polish Ingredients -The toxic trio are known to cause seriously toxic effects on the health of salon workers.


This ingredient is a solvent added to create a smooth finish across the nail and keeps the paint from separating in the bottle. This chemical is usually used in gasoline that fuels our car. This harms the central nervous system and damages reproductive organs. Other adverse effects include headaches, numbness and eye and throat irritation.

Toluene - Harmful Nail Polish Ingredient


A well-known carcinogenic agentused as a nail hardening ingredient. The long lasting nail polishes that you love contain this in abundance. Apart from this, it is used as a disinfectant which prevents bacterial contamination. Formaldehyde is also used as a disinfectant for the tools used during manicure and pedicure.

Dibutyl phthalate

This adds flexibility to nail paints ; however, can cause severe damage to the reproductive tract. They prevent the polished nails from cracking or turning brittle. Use of phthalates is banned in certain countries in Europe. The use of this ingredient is becoming less frequent due to its damaging effects.

Other toxic chemical ingredients include camphor which gives nail paints their gloss and strength, but can cause nausea, dizziness and headaches. Butylated hydroxyanisole is present in gel nail polishes. Many nail polishes have Nitro Cellulose which has film forming abilities. Acetone used to remove nail polish can not only dry your nails, but also cause severe allergic reactions and dermatitis.

Cancer and Nail Polish

Gel nail polishes are becomingly increasingly popular as they last longer without chipping. Researchers recently observed that the nail polish is not the main concern, how these nails are dried in salons pose a greater risk for skin cancer. The recent gel nail polishes consist of a hardening gel which requires exposure to UV light. This repeated exposure to ultraviolet lights is responsible for wrinkles and skin cancer, if used repeatedly. A safer alternative would be the usage of LED lights as the production of UV rays by these is very minimal.

How to Choose Non-Toxic Nail Polish

Try and opt for products which come with a low rating of toxicity within 0-2. This can be difficult and tricky as most beauty products are not tested or authorized. Neither do have a toxicity index marked out on them. If you are unable to find any rating, a better option would be to check the label to be sure that the nail paint is free of chemicals such as toluene, formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate and camphor. Organic nail paints are not yet easily available; however, if you refrain from usage of conventional nail paints gradually, the demand for organic and natural nail paints will increase. This will add pressure on companies to shift to natural, healthy nail care product alternatives.

Health Tips

  • Since commercially available nail paints are harmful, it is recommended to apply them over gaps of time, and maybe only on occasions and remove them off the same night.
  • Leave your nails without nail paint for a few days each month.
  • Avoid inhalation of vapors which come when you open a nail paint bottle.
  • Try avoiding paints with chemicals such as toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate by checking the label
  • Opt for non-toxic nail polishes, herbal nail polishes and nail polish removers
  • Avoid gel nail polish and the use of UV light to dry them
Gel Nail Polish With UV light


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  2. Bachand AM, Mundt KA, Mundt DJ, Montgomery RR (2010) Epidemiological studies of formaldehyde exposure and risk of leukemia and nasopharyngeal cancer: a meta-analysis. Crit. Rev. Toxicol. 40: 85-100.
  3. Baden HP (1970) The physical properties of nail, J. Investig. Dermatol. 55: 115-122.
  4. Ballarian C, Sarto F, Giacomelli L, Bartolucci G, Clonfero E (1992) Micronucleated cells in nasal mucosa of formaldehyde-exposed workers. Mutat Res. 280: 1-7.
  5. Baran R (2002). Nail cosmetics - allergies and irritations. Am J Clin Dermatol. 3: 547-555.

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