Nail polishes that claim to be non-toxic and free of hazardous chemicals may contain the toxic trio of formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, and toluene. They have been shown to cause fertility problems, birth defects, and cancer. A new study found that products which claimed to be safe to use were more likely to contain these substances than nail polishes that made no such claims. The research team tested nail polish thinners, lacquers, basecoats, and topcoats that claimed to be free of toxic chemicals.
These chemicals are either highly limited or banned in Europe. While they are legal in the U.S., they should be listed on nail polish labels. Used as a preservative, the chemical is known to cause skin problems, asthma, and cancer in large enough doses. Formaldehyde has an irritating, pungent odor, and a 37-percent solution can cause death. Ingestion of the water solution of formaldehyde can lead to damage of the gastrointestinal tract.
Toluene helps create clear colors and a smooth look in polishes, but it can cause short-term memory loss, nausea, dizziness, and headache. It can cause miscarriages and may harm fetuses. Low to moderate levels are shown to cause weakness, confusion, tiredness, and drunken-type actions. Other side effects include color vision and hearing loss and loss of appetite. In some cases, it can cause unconsciousness and death.
Dibutyl phthalate gives nail polishes a flexible but hard finish, but it has been associated with birth defects and reproductive problems. Some studies have shown that dibutyl phthalate damages the seminal vesicles and the prostate gland. In animals, it causes reduced sperm count, testicular atrophy, and absent prostate gland.
The new study examined 25 products that claimed to be free of toxic chemicals, and five of them had detectable levels. Seven polishes were free of DBP and toluene, but nine of the products contained both chemicals.