How Toxic Is Your Nail Polish Really?

You're no eco-dummy. You don't need to do a lick of research to know that a product that comes in every hue of the rainbow -- and then some -- is anything but natural.
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Written By Kirsten Hudson

That shiny blue color flaunting all of its metallic glory on your painted nails might add a flash of style to your fingers, but it's wreaking havoc on the environment -- and your health.

You're no eco-dummy. You don't need to do a lick of research to know that a product that comes in every hue of the rainbow -- and then some -- is anything but natural. What makes that glossy nail polish so eye-catching-ly shiny and able to stick to your nails for days? A slew of chemicals, of course. We know you're pretty eco-savvy, but do you know just how much bad stuff that one teeny nail polish bottle holds?

Up until recently, most conventional nail polishes found on store shelves offered up a noxious ingredient list of substances including the "toxic trio," formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate, or DBP. Formaldehyde, yes the same stuff used to preserve dead things, is a known human carcinogen and can also cause eye, throat, nose and skin irritation. DBP is a known reproductive and developmental toxin, while toluene is a possible reproductive and developmental toxin and can also cause headaches, dizziness and fatigue. All of these chemicals can be absorbed into the body through the nail bed. Feel like swiping on a coat of polish now?

Thanks to some serious prodding from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in 2006 and 2007, several mainstream nail polish brands including OPI, Sally Hansen and Orly phased out all (or one or two) of those three nasty chemicals from their formulas. Unlike the European Union, which banned companies from using DBP in 2005, the United States doesn't restrict this chemical in beauty products. These toxic substances may be more limited than in the past, but they still sneak into nail polishes -- so check your labels! Plus, just because a nail polish doesn't contain the toxic trio, doesn't mean it's all good. Conventional nail polishes often contain other potentially dangerous chemicals including ethyl acetate, isopropyl alcohol, fragrances, dyes and more.

The harmful compounds in nail polishes put more than your health at risk. When tossed into the trash they can leech their toxicity into the soil and groundwater. That's quite an environmental price for stylish nails. Think about it. You wouldn't throw house paint into the garbage. And conventional nail polishes are just paint after all. Many cities' household hazardous waste departments list nail polishes as one of the, well, hazardous waste products accepted at their facilities. That means nail polishes sit right up there on the same unfriendly scale as car batteries and insecticides. Pretty scary, huh?

So, what's an eco-beauty queen with a love for colorful digits to do? Look for companies that offer nail polishes formulated without harmful chemicals by checking to see if they have signed a compact with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. You can search for options on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database.

Or, keep your hands off the polish altogether. Going au natural doesn't mean you have to forgo pampering. Check out our simple steps for a DIY natural pedicure for inspiration.

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