Have you ever walked into a nail salon and wondered “what is that smell?” or “should I really be breathing this?” Your instincts are right on. Nail polish, polish removers and artificial nail products contain a host of toxic chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer, reproductive harm, asthma and other negative health effects.
We all trying to live a healthier life. We try to eat more cleaner and healthier, we try to use natural organic products for face and body, and we try to avoid chemicals as much as possible. But what about when it comes to our nails. There’s no such thing as organic nail polish.
The three big, bad chemicals banished from nail polishes—those would be formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and toluene—now have some company.
Lacquers are made from chemicals, FD&C dyes (approved by the F.D.A. as safe), and possibly colorants derived from the cochineal beetle, which are commonly used in cosmetics.
The good news is that some nail polish manufacturers have reformulated their products to remove the “toxic trio” of ingredients: dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene.
What is formaldehyde resin? It’s a strengthener used in polishes, while formaldehyde proper has been a staple of nail hardeners. Both are skin allergens, according to the Food & Drug Administration, and only truly toxic if you bite your nails.
Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen. It is also an irritant to the eyes, nose and throat, and can lead to skin irritation and an allergic rash called dermatitis.
Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) adds flexibility and a moisturizing sheen, and helps dissolve other cosmetic ingredients. DBP is a reproductive and developmental toxin that has been linked to feminizing effects in baby boys.
Toluene helps suspend the color and form a smooth finish across the nail. It also affects the central nervous system and can cause headaches, dizziness and fatigue. Toluene is a possible reproductive and developmental toxin.
After discovering in 2006 that OPI nail polish — the leading salon brand — was one of the most toxic products ranked in EWG’s Skin Deep database of cosmetics products, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics took on a multi-year campaign to pressure OPI Products Inc. to reformulate their products using safer chemicals. We fanned out to nail salons, demonstrated in shopping centers, wrote thousands of letters and launched an ad campaign to convince the public and OPI that safer products are good for customers and business.
Though OPI was already making safer products for the European market as required by EU law, the company was initially unwilling to reformulate globally. Then, in August 2006, OPI announced it would remove DBP from all of its products. A year later, OPI announced that it would also remove toluene from its products, and was marketing a formaldehyde-free nail hardener.
Today, OPI advertisements proudly proclaim its nail polishes to be free of DBP, toluene and formaldehyde.
OPI competitors Orly and Sally Hansen followed suit, writing to us that they would remove the toxic trio from their nail polishes, too.
That brings the grand total of toxic ingredients to avoid painting onto your fingertips to five. At least for now.
Here is a list of some non toxic lacquers:
Priti, a Fashion Week fave, has been 5-free since the day it launched, but it doesn’t brag about it. But now you know the whole pretty story.
Every Fashion Week finds CND artfully coating the claws of the catwalk. But this year the models wore the new range of 50 custom colors (you layer them with 15 variously shimmered effects), all formulated without the bad stuff.
Where to get polished: Visit CND for spas that will be carrying the new colors, $9, www.CND.com
The glamorous green sister brand to OPI is also vegan. That means no insect-derived colorants. The fall colors rock. Or are inspired by them, as well as minerals, metallics, and gems. Where to get polished: Great Jones Spa (29 Great Jones St., 212-505-3185). SpaRitual, $10, www.sparitual.com
VAPOUR ORGANIC BEAUTY
Vapour is a stand-out organic makeup line that recently launched these tiny bottles of big fashion-forward shades
There’s something so sexy (never mind eco sexy) about Gina Carney’s 5-free lacquer line that combines the founder’s love for fashion and minimalism, even in this rich amber metallic.
Forward-thinking Scotch Naturals is water-based, not solvent-based, meaning it’s made with fewer chemicals than even most non-toxic polishes. And still it manages to stay put and comes in really rad colors.
Scotch Naturals in Queen of Scots, $15, spiritbeautylounge.com
TenOverTen Polish in Spruce, $18, tenoverten.com
This French next-generation nail line is grabbing the spotlight for its 85 percent natural formulation (its based on wood pulp, wheat, cotton, potatoes and corn), and cool concepts like the Denim color collection, influenced by founder, Brazilian-model Kartika Luyet.
Kure Bazaar in Mon Bleu, $16, spiritbeautylounge.com
This line is a quiet revolution in the the making: it’s completely water-based—you even can wash off mistakes up to a minute after application—and odorless. And the colors are all non-toxic, meaning there are no FD&C solvents, and vegan.
Acquarella Non-Toxic Nail Polish in Sleek, $18, spiritbeautylounge.com
NCLA is a big deal in LA, the city which serves style inspiration for the line. Witness this rich red wine shade that’s loaded with multi-colored sparkles. (The company also makes a line of easy to use—and non-toxic—nail wraps.)
You’ve no doubt seen Mineral Fusion skin care and makeup at Whole Foods, but you may not have spied its new line of 30 nail lacquers. The mineral-infused shades are easy to apply thanks to a wide brush makes your DIY manicure faster.
Mineral Fusion Nail Color in Amethyst, $7.99, available at Whole Foods stores