Toxic Nail Polish

I have always brought my own nail polish with me to the nail salon; call it logic, but using a gooey bottle of polish that has been put on someone else’s toes never sat well with me.
Beyond that, I never gave my nail polish much thought until recently; I was told to avoid a chemical called toluene.

I had no idea what toluene even was until I started to do a little digging. It seems selecting a nail polish is not just about the color being bright and fun anymore. Nail polish contains chemicals which can be harmful to our bodies. These toxic chemicals can contribute to cancer, reproductive problems, asthma and other health conditions.

Here’s what you need to know

You’ll want to avoid what’s known as the ‘toxic trio.’ The toxic trio consists of dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde and toluene. This trio is said to be the most toxic of the offenders.

  1. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) adds a moisturizing sheen and flexibility to nail polish. (DBP) is considered a reproductive and a developmental toxin.
  2. Toluene is clear solvent that is also found in gasoline. Toluene assists in suspending the color and gives nail polish a smooth finish. Toluene can affect the central nervous system and is considered a possible reproductive and developmental toxin.
  3. Formaldehyde is used as a nail hardener in nail polish and is considered a known carcinogen.


NARS, Nfu Oh, OPI, Nicole by OPI, Wet n’ Wild are just some of the nail polish that I found to be free of the ‘toxic trio.’ Keep in mind that although these are free of the ‘toxic trio,’ they may still contain other harmful neurotoxins such as formaldehyde resin and camphor.


Then there is what’s considered the 5-free. These guys are free of the ‘toxic trio’ plus free of two more ingredients; formaldehyde resin and camphor.

Five-free includes Acquarella, Chanel, Kure Bazaar, Mineral Fusion, NCLA, Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, Priti, RGB, Scotch Naturals, Spa Ritual, Tenoverten, Vapour Organic Beauty and Pure Poppet.

Before you make your purchase, it should be noted that despite claims to be ‘all natural vegan’ polish, or water based ‘non-toxic’, they can still contain a list of other harmful chemicals. So be sure to read the labels.

To simplify, you can read the nail polish label just like you would a food label. The ingredients will be listed in a descending order of predominance. As the list descends the ingredients will appear in miniscule or trace amounts. For a better understanding on reading product labels click here.

Rave reviews

From what I’ve come across, the nail polish listed below seems to be the most popular of the brands. Just remember the coverage and wear will vary depending on the brand you select.

What to do

If all of this is too confusing, keep it simple.

  1. Look for water-based polishes; they give off less fumes.
  2. Bring your own polish to the nail salon.
  3. Sit in the seat closest to the open door whenever possible.
  4. Always polish your nails in a well-ventilated area.
  5. Avoid the nail salon all together and do it yourself at home.

Don’t forget nail polish is considered an environmental toxin and should be disposed of through a Household Hazardous Waste program.

*The list provided represents only some of the nail polishes on the market that are 3 or 5-free. Remember your best bet is to read the labels and select a polish works best for you. As for myself, I love bright and fun colors, so I am going to give Pure Poppet and Piggy Paint a try.
In an upcoming article I will share my experience with you.

Have you considered picking a less toxic polish after reading this article? We’d love to hear from you, let us know what brand you are using.


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