The Lesser-Known Toxic Side of Nail Polish

A recent report noted that over 40,000 chemicals are used to create regular consumer products, yet only 1% of those chemicals are regulated and tested for human safety.

As more and more people become invested in ridding their homes of potential toxins and reducing their environmental impact, we’re beginning to scrutinize some of these consumer products more closely.

If you fall into this category but love self-care and pampering products, you may be wondering: is nail polish toxic? In the past, we may never have thought about what kinds of ingredients are used to create those self-hardening coats of color. Now, it’s time to reconsider.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the toxins in nail polish–and find an alternative that’s better for you and the environment.

Why Should We Be Aware of Toxins?

If you’re not worried about the toxic materials in your household, it’s understandable. Toxins aren’t necessarily something you can see, smell, or taste. They’re in so many of our products that it’s easy to adjust to their presence and put them out of mind.

The problem is that the toxins we interact with on a daily basis may not cause immediate or obvious health problems, but exposure over time can lead to serious or long-term consequences. While you may feel like the amount of nail polish you use to polish your fingers and toes isn’t enough to concern yourself over, many people use nail polish every week or even every day, which adds up to quite a bit of exposure.

Ultimately, cutting toxins out of your product consumption entirely is a daunting task. However, lowering the ways in which you expose yourself to toxins can have positive results. Sometimes, it’s as simple as switching brands.

Is Nail Polish Toxic?

By now, you’ve probably guessed where we’re going with this. Is nail polish toxic? The answer is that most of the time, it is. Unfortunately, some of the leading brands producing those fun and funky polishes are relying on a mix of chemicals that aren’t so appealing.

Let’s take a look at some of the chemicals you can find in some of the most popular nail polish brands, from Sally Hansen to Wet n Wild.


A few years back, Duke University┬áresearchers found that a chemical called triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) was being used to create nail polish–and that it was entering the bloodstream of nail polish users.

What is TPHP? TPHP is what’s called a plasticizer, something you usually find in plastics or foam. In nail polish, it is used to help prevent cracking or flaking–but exposure to it can also cause developmental problems for children and reproductive problems for adults.


Another chemical that has been discovered in many nail polish recipes is dibutyl phthalate (DBP). This is yet another chemical that is more commonly used to produce plastic and once again serves to create a more durable, thick polish.

DBP, in a similar fashion to TPHP, has been found to disrupt hormone development and release and cause abnormalities during the reproductive process. In some cases, short-term exposure has lead to rapid onset symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and eye irritation. DPB has also been linked to damage in the liver and kidneys.


Toluene is something you could find at the gas station, as it is often an additive found in the gasoline we use to fuel our cars. However, this chemical has also found a home in some nail polishes, where it is used to prevent pigment separation and create a smooth finish.

Toluene has been found to irritate the skin and enter the central nervous system. Upon entering the central nervous system, it may cause confusion, fatigue, and weakness.


You’ve probably heard of this one. Formaldehyde is used in the embalming fluid used to preserve both human and animal bodies after death. What is it doing in nail polish?

In a gruesome twist, this post-mortem chemical is used as a hardening agent in many nail polishes. In small doses, it can cause skin rashes. In large amounts, formaldehyde exposure has been linked to cancer as well as throat and lung irritation.

The Environmental Toll of Nail Polish

These chemicals aren’t great for your body and they’re not great for the environment, either. In fact, nail polish is considered a hazardous waste and technically, it isn’t supposed to end up in your trash can. All of these chemicals are pollutants that, once released into the atmosphere, contribute to our rapidly worsening air quality and the emission of green house gases.

Finding a Better Nail Polish Brand

Fortunately, you don’t have to stop doing your nails to break with all of these unpleasant chemicals. Plenty of brands are searching for ways to make cleaner, risk-free products to help consumers enjoy the things they love without coming into contact with the toxins they don’t.

Take a look at this brand that creates vegan nail polish, for example. The colors are stunning, the price is great, and the product is guilt-free!

Rid the Toxins From Your Life

As more of us start to wonder about the dangers our favorite products may pose, we may start asking: is nail polish toxic? The answer is that while it often is, it doesn’t have to be. Taking the time to learn about what we’re consuming and finding better alternatives is a great way to start ridding the toxins from your life.

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