A Note on Nail Polish

formaldehydeEvery girl I know loves getting her nails done. Having perfectly polished toes is a must during summer months and manicured nails can give more polish (no pun intended) to our professional look. Look around the block, there is probably at least one nail salon amongst the slew of restaurants, dry cleaners, banks and Starbucks. In Southern California, that number practically triples! Many of us don’t even go more than a day without polish on our nails.

So, this begged a curious question: do I need to know more about my nail polish than the color’s creative name? After some investigating I had my answer…Absolutely.

Women have been painting their nails for centuries. However, the nail polish we use today wasn’t formulated until the 19th century. Before then, natural ingredients like beeswax, henna, vegetable color, and egg were used to adorn fingers and toes. Newer, more synthetic ingredients used to add shine and prevent chipping were added in the 20th century. So what ingredients are commonly used in modern day nail polish? Furthermore, are they really safe for regular use?

Toluene is a colorless, liquid solvent used in many brands of nail polish, and it may be hazardous to your health. It has a negative affect on your immune and reproductive systems and is considered to be carcinogenic. The International Fragrance Association has named it an unsafe ingredient and one to be used only in very small amounts if at all.

Excessive exposure to toluene may affect the brain, eye, throat and the unborn child. The Environment Agency aims to ensure that environmental exposures are too low to harm human health. – sourced from The United Kingdom Environment Agency

Formaldehyde is another solvent and known irritant and possible carcinogen.

Breathing air containing low levels of formaldehyde can cause burning and watering eyes. As levels increase, it can cause burning of the nose and throat, coughing, and difficulty in breathing. Some people may be more sensitive to formaldehyde and have effects at levels lower than expected.
Animal studies have shown increased nasal cancers in rats and mice who inhaled high levels of formaldehyde for a long time. Because of this, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen (cancer causing agent). This means there is enough evidence that formaldehyde causes cancer in animals, but not enough evidence that it causes cancer in humans. Human studies are inconclusive because it is not known whether observed increases in cancer are due to formaldehyde exposure or to other factors, such as smoking. – sourced from Illinois Department of Public Health fact sheet

Phthalates are used to “seal” the color into nail polish and help polish dry and adhere easily to the nail. Phthalates are added to keep nail polish from chipping. They do this by having a plasticizing effect on the other ingredients.

The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Rochester, USA conducted experiments in 2005 to show that phthalates could affect the reproductive health of baby boys. Dibutyl phthalate is the main phthalate found in nail polish ingredients. It is now often replaced with phthalic anhydride which also has a long list of health concerns leveled at it, according to the EWG. The European Union has banned both phthalates and formaldehyde from use in cosmetics, including nail polish.

Total Beauty Online posted a great read: 8 Beauty No-No’s When You’re Preg-O . Three of the 8 ingredients are toluene, formaldehyde and phthalates.

Other ingredients of concern in nail polish include artificial / synthetic dyes, colors and fragrances, which can have minimal or extreme effects on your health depending on your sensitivity and genetic background.

So, what’s a girl to do? Fortunately there are several healthier options now available. Sparitual has taken the industry by storm as one of the leading professional nail care companies – and they are vegan, clean and green! Other great brands include: Sun Coat Products, No-Miss, and Zoya. Many spas and salons are offering safer alternatives for polish. Having trouble finding a place? Simply make your own “mani / pedi kit” using safer products and bring it with you to the salon!

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