Nail polish seems like one of the easiest products to neglect when going all natural. You only use a tiny amount – it can’t be that bad, right? The unfortunate truth is that most nail polish is packed with chemicals you wouldn’t usually want anywhere near your body.

The three nail polish ingredients that have created the largest health concern are:

  1. Dibutyl phthalate: Dibutyl phthalate is used in nail polishes as a plasticizer and a solvent to prevent the polish from becoming brittle over time. According to the Environmental Working Group, the European Union has banned the use of dibutyl phthalate in body care products and cosmetics. It has also been classified by the State of California as a substance that causes developmental and reproductive toxicity. All data and research thus far have been limited to animal studies.
  2. Toluene: Toluene is a solvent used in making fingernail polish. It is also found in paints, paint thinners, and gasoline. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states that toluene affects the nervous system and that short-term exposure can cause headaches and dizziness.
  3. Formaldehyde:  Formaldehyde is commonly used in nail polish and has been classified as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Carcinogens (IARC). However, a lot of companies have been removing formaldehyde from nail products due to consumer pressure.

The great news is, many of the most popular nail polish brands are now gong “three-free,” which means they’re being made without the 3 ingredients listed above. This includes brands like EssieWet n’ WildSally HansenAvonMaybelline, and L’oreal.

The even better news is, there are brands that don’t stop at “three-free,” but have upped their game to “five- free” by also removing formaldehyde resin and camphor from their ingredient lists. These brands include Sonia Kashuk, RGB, PritiZoyaHoneybee GardensChanelDior, and Beauty Without Cruelty.

While the “five-free” standard is a good start, there are now companies stepping it up to the new “seven-free” standard. These companies exclude all of the ingredients listed above, along with xylene and ethyl tosylamide. Currently, these are the purest, most natural nail polishes you can get.  Companies who are seven-free include PacificaLVXButter London, and Aquarella.

Thankfully, these categories can make it easier for us to choose safer nail polish. However, there is one more ingredient that has become a concern thanks to a study from 2015: triphenyl phosphate (TPHP). TPHP is an endocrine disruptor used in nail polish. In this study conducted by Duke University and Environmental Working Group, researchers tested female participants for diphyenyl phosphate (DPHP), which is created by the body when it metabolizes TPHP. The DPHP levels in women were found to be much higher after applying nail polish.

Endocrine disruptors can affect the hormonal and developmental processes and may be considered contributors to hormone-related cancers such as breast cancer. Regularly applying endocrine disruptors, like TPHP, to the skin can be a serious source of exposure, especially for those who are predisposed to endocrine problems or children and teens. Check out this research article to learn more about which nail polishes contain TPHP. Side note: the list includes Butter London, but the brand has since removed TPHP from its ingredients.

Ultimately, we have to choose carefully when purchasing nail polish, and probably pay a little more, to get the most natural, least toxic options. Even with TPHP concerns, the list of “five-free” and “seven-free” nail polish brands are still pretty great options.

Lastly, once you’ve worn a color out and are ready to purge your polish, please remember that nail polish is considered so toxic that it should not be tossed out with your trash. If you have time, drop the bottles off at your local household hazardous waste facility to be disposed of properly.

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