Nail polish free of toxic compound might still have a dirty secret

10 Oct 2018

Image: ©

Research into nail polish free of a particular harmful chemical has found, in some cases, it still contains other toxic compounds.

One of the key features of any nail polish is its ability to be flexible and chip-resistant. However, more than a decade ago, one of the most commonly used chemicals in the product was found to be rather toxic to humans.

The plasticiser chemical called di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) was examined in great detail and it was revealed to be a toxicant that causes reproductive and developmental issues. In response, manufacturers began putting ‘3-free’ labels on their bottles, meaning the products lacked the ‘toxic trio’ of DnBP, toluene and formaldehyde.

Since then, as many as 13 different chemicals are referenced on labels as being omitted from nail polish. However, new research published in Environmental Science & Technology has found that some of the substitute plasticiser ingredients – such as triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) – may also be harmful.

This, the researchers suggested, may suggest that a practice of ‘regrettable substitution’ is being done, where one toxic chemical is being replaced by another.

Challenging for consumers

The American Chemical Society team examined 40 different nail polishes and found that manufacturers have generally removed DnBP and are reducing the amount of TPHP they use.

However, some producers are using similar toxic substances, such as bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, sometimes without disclosing the compounds. This results in polishes with labels that promote fewer toxic ingredients, but don’t necessarily contain fewer toxic compounds.

“With little standardisation or validation of the claims, it’s challenging for consumers and nail salon workers to know what these labels really mean for health,” said researcher Anna Young. “It’s not as simple as what substances aren’t in nail polish; we have to address harmful chemicals still present or added as substitutes.”

These findings come a month after the European Society of Anaesthesiology reported that nail polish and acrylic nails do not affect readings of a patient’s blood oxygen levels in hospitals, contrary to previous understanding.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic