These Harmful Ingredients Could Be Lurking In Your Nail Polish

nail polish ingredients

Unsplash/Annie Spratt

You know how whenever you visit a nail salon, your nose is immediately overwhelmed by pungent chemical smells? Well, that should probably be your signal to turn around and walk right back out the door.

Plenty of nail polish products (including popular brands) contain ingredients that are harmful to us and have the ability to leach from the polish on top of our nails into our skin and, thus, the rest of our bodies. So if you’re someone who loves getting a manicure a couple times each month, check with your salon to see if they use nail polishes with the following harmful ingredients. (And if they do, start Googling a new place to get your nails done ASAP.)

Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)

As the name suggests, DBP is a member of the phthalate family. It’s used in nail polish to minimize chipping, which is a worthy cause and everything, but it’s still an endocrine disruptor. That means it creates hormonal imbalances in the body (partially because it mimics estrogen), which can lead to fertility issues, fetal development problems, organ damage and more. The use of DBP is banned in the European Union, and Australia classifies it as a risk to the human reproductive system.

nail polish ingredients

Unsplash/Element5 Digital


Formaldehyde has several functions in common nail polish products. It helps to harden and strengthen the varnish, and it acts as a preservative that prevents the growth of unwanted bacteria. While very small doses of formaldehyde aren’t dangerous (and are even produced by the human body itself), higher quantities (like in nail polish) and repeated exposure (like at nail salons) are associated with cancer in both the throat and blood. It can also lead to health problems like asthma, nausea, miscarriages and fetal development issues.


Toluene is what gives nail polish that coveted smooth application and glossy finish. And while a manicure isn’t complete without that glistening top coat, the toluene-filled fumes that can come along with it are very toxic. Repeated exposure to toluene can lead to neurological damage, decreased brain function, breathing problems and even hearing loss. And again, for the expectant mothers in the room, be especially wary because this chemical can lead to fetal development problems.

When you’re on the hunt for your next favorite polish shade, search for options that are “3-free,” or free of these three toxins. There are other ingredients that many brands avoid as well, but these are the most potent ones to be sure to stray from first. Butter London, Deborah Lippmann, Essie and OPI are all great non-toxic places to start.

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