test-Nail Polish Pretty Colors  &  Toxic Chemicals
Bath & Beauty
Nail Polish Pretty Colors & Toxic Chemicals
Jessica B. • September 29, 2015

How Toxic is Your Nail Polish?

Nail polish is one of my favorite year-round accessories. I love wearing bright, fun colors in the spring and summer and dark, vampy colors in the fall and winter. Just a little color can tie together any outfit, and it makes your nails look sleek and gorgeous.

For a fabulous product that comes in every color under the sun and stays on for days at a time (or weeks, if you’re careful), I was disappointed to learn that there are chemicals and other dangerous ingredients lurking in some of those stylish, little bottles.

I decided to look into these dangers and also search for brands that offer a safe and more natural approach. Here's what I discovered:

Many nail salons lack adequate ventilation, which means chemicals that evaporate from nail products are trapped in the salon, and workers are continuously exposed.

The Daily Mail explained the various ways exposure to nail care products with harmful chemicals can affect the body, including allergic reactions, respiratory problems, reproductive health issues and more.

In the last few years, more and more people have started taking a vested interest in using natural beauty products, and that used to be quite difficult when it came to nail polish.

According to WebMD, there is a “toxic trio” of ingredients associated with serious potential health risks found in some nail polishes.

The 3 Worst Toxic Nail Polish Ingredients You Need to Avoid

1Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) is added to nail polishes to increase flexibility and decrease brittleness of the polish formula, but it has been linked to reproductive problems. DBP is a known reproductive and developmental toxin. It was banned by the European Union back in 2005, but the U.S. doesn’t restrict it from being used in beauty products.


Toluene is commonly used as a solvent, which is an ingredient that creates a smooth finish across the nail and keeps the pigment from separating in the bottle, but it can affect the central nervous system. Toluene is also known as a possible reproductive and developmental toxin that may cause headaches, dizziness and fatigue.


Formaldehyde is used as a nail-hardening agent and disinfectant for nail care tools. It is another known carcinogen that can cause eye, throat, nose and skin irritation. It may also cause allergic reactions and is unsafe for use by people with asthma.

Thanks to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics that grew in popularity back in 2006 and 2007, several mainstream nail polish brands like OPI and Essie began to phase out one, two or all three of the toxic trio from their formulas.

And being big-3 free (a.k.a., the toxic trio is excluded) doesn’t mean a polish is completely safe for you, either. Nail polishes may contain potentially dangerous chemicals such as ethyl acetate, isopropyl alcohol, fragrances, dyes and more, according to a Huffington Post article.

Most of the time being big-3 free only refers to the nail polish colors themselves, not base coats, top coats, nail strengtheners, etc.

Also, just because a polish is marketed as non-toxic doesn’t mean that’s exactly true.

Twenty-five nail polish products were tested in a study done by the California Environmental Protection Agency Department of Toxic Substances Control. Twelve claimed to be free of at least one toxic trio chemical, but that was only accurate for a small handful of the products.

The most important thing you can do is read labels and each brand’s website to see which ingredients they do and don’t use. More and more brands are becoming big-3 free, but many still aren’t, so research is your friend.

While there is no such thing as a safe, clean, totally non-toxic nail polish right now, there are certain brands or types that are better for you than others.

Try finding polishes that fit under one of the following categories:

  • Big-3 free: no formaldehyde, toluene or DPB
  • Big-5 free: big-3 free with no formaldehyde resin or camphor
  • Big-7 free: big-5 free with no parabens or xylene

Top Nail Polish Brands That Use Safer Ingredients

safer nail polish brands - less toxic ingredients

Where to Buy Safer Nail Polish Products:





Nail Polish Safety Tips

nail polish safety tip 1 Read the labels carefully, and do some research on the brand’s website.
dispose of old nail polish bottles carefully Dispose of used products carefully. Screw lids on tightly before throwing them away to prevent unnecessary leaks.
nail polish safety for pregnant women If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or nursing, avoid any products containing toluene, phthalates or formaldehyde.
nail polish safety resources To see the overall hazards, possible toxicity and health concerns present in your nail polish, head to EWG's Skin Deep®.

Do you use natural nail polish or have a favorite natural nail polish brand?