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Painting your nails is fun but can it also be ok for your health?

Traditional nail polishes look pretty but contain lots of toxic junk that’s not good for you or the environment.

Because seriously, whoever uses an entire bottle of the stuff? They end up in a landfill somewhere.

There’s got to be a better way!

And nowadays there is!

The bigger brands of nail polish that we all know like L'oreal, OPI, Sally Hansen, haven’t changed, but there are many smaller companies choosing a different, healthier approach to nail polish.

True story: I’ve had one pedicure in my life and couldn’t get out of the salon fast enough.

The moment I walked in, I was smacked in the face with harsh chemical smells of cleaners, polish, disinfectants, scented foot scrub stations, and more.

I didn’t want that stuff on my body anymore than I did in my nose and throat.


What’s so bad about nail polish?

Remember your nails are living, breathing things. They are capable of absorption and transferring what’s on their surface into your body. Preliminary research suggestions that at least one chemical commonly found in nail polish makes its way into your bloodstream and urine. 

The article suggests not to worry, but exposure over time is a missing piece of this argument, not to mention what you inhale while applying the polish. If you’re constantly getting manis or pedis, it might be time to rethink the contents of the polish you’re having applied or applying yourself.

There’s so many chemicals that are hazardous to our health that are common in our environment nowadays. Our bodies are challenged with detoxing everything from personal care products, make up, household cleaners, artificial scents, the off-gassing of new cars, new mattresses, and new furniture. It’s super smart to minimize your exposure where you can.

And the majority of these chemicals HAVE NEVER BEEN TESTED.

You read that right.

I’m not saying nail polish will cause cancer, but I am saying why not take that extra step to choose a product that we know is safer and easier on our bodies?


So what are these baddies and how do they affect you?

Toluene gives your polish a smooth application and finish and it smells like paint thinner. It affects the central nervous system and can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. Chronic exposure is linked to anemia, lowered blood cell count, liver or kidney damage. When inhaled too frequently by pregnant women, it may result in impaired fetal development.

Formaldehyde is used to harden and strengthen polish and acts as a preservative to decrease bacterial growth. This stuff is used in embalming bodies and preserving dead specimens, y’all. It DOES NOT need to be on your nails. It’s a known human carcinogen that has been associated with leukemia and asthma. It can also irritate the eyes, nose and throat and leads to skin irritation or cause an allergic rash called dermatitis. 

Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) is used to reduce chipping in nail polish. It’s a type of phthalate which is a class of major endocrine disrupting chemicals. The one we're most familiar with is BPA, or bisphenol A. Phthalates are developmental and reproductive toxins and has been linked to obesity, allergy and asthma symptoms, reduced fertility, preterm birth and low birthweight. Exposure can affect thyroid function and may cause malformations of an embryo. 

Formaldehyde resin is a derivative of formaldehyde and is used in the manufacturing of adhesives. It’s been tested less than some of these other chemicals, but can cause severe skin irritation and allergic reactions, skin depigmentation, and loss of nerve sensation. So fun.

​Camphor is an ingredient used to give nail polishes their glossy, shiny appearance. It can cause seizures and disorientation. Camphor seals off your nails (remember, they are a living, breathing piece of your body), depriving them of nutrients and causing yellow staining.

Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP) disrupts hormone regulation, metabolism, and reproductive systems. It’s used as a fire retardant in furniture and hardener in plastics and is common in nail polishes to make them more flexible and chip resistant. Why do we need fire retardants on our nails??

Xylene irritates the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. It is rapidly absorbed by your lungs through the inhalation of vapors and can lead to neurotoxicity. This solvent is used in synthetic enamels, paints, lacquers and varnishes. 

Ethyl Tosylamide is a sulfur-based antibiotic that has been banned in Europe due to its ability to cause mild to severe allergic reactions. It’s used as a plasticizer in nail polishes making your polish more flexible and adhesive.

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) is a widely used preservative to extend the shelf life of cosmetics. It’s associated with allergic reactions and irritation to the eyes, skin, and lungs and has neurotoxic effects.

Parabens are preservatives common in beauty products that have endocrine disrupting effects through their ability to mimic estrogen. Excess estrogen leads to symptoms like PMS, heavy, painful periods, and decreased sperm count in men.


How does my nail polish stack up?

Search for your polish in this online database by The Environmental Working Group.

It’s a fabulous resource for learning which chemicals are lurking in nail polish and TONS of other personal care products so you can start making informed decisions for your health.


What should I look for in nail polish?

There are lots of non toxic options out there nowadays!

Sometimes understanding just how non toxic a product is can be confusing.

More chemically-conscious polishes use terms like 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 10 free.


Here’s a key for you:

3-free = Formaldehyde, toluene, DBP (dibutyl phthalate)

4-free = Formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, tosylamide/formaldehyde resin

5-free = Formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor

7-free = Formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene

8-free = Formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, triphenyl phosphate

10-free = Formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, triphenyl phosphate, methylisothiazolinone, and parabens


I wanted to give you this key to make the terminology super clear.

My recommendation is to go for the 10-free!

Minimize your risk as much as possible and make your nails pretty at the same time. Win-win!


Brands I like

Palate Polish: my current crush in the non-toxic nail polish space.

They are a 10-free brand, vegan, use plastic-free packaging, and AND biodegradable glitter in their polishes. The colors are super hip and they even have a matte finish top coat, as matte nails are having a moment right now.

This is their super fun Jawbreaker color (please excuse the less than perfect application :))

100% Pure: a 10-free brand with great color options and many low chemical personal care product options.

Zoya: a 10-free brand with a HUGE selection of colors and easy ordering.

Ella + Mila: a 7-free brand which a ton of options and a great website.


Go forth and enjoy fun, pretty nails without the toxic side effects!

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