This is How Nail Polish Affects Your Body

Updated on February 24th, 2020
Nail Polish

Nail polish was first used almost 2500 years ago in China and since then has become a mainstay among women and girls all over the world. Initially, the colors were made from organic products like beeswax, egg whites, fish-bone powder, and naturally available dyes.

But with time, chemicals have seeped in and made their way into the colored paint, which women apply on their nails today. Today, everything from organic polymers and many other synthetic components is added to nail colors, which is not the best news for those who love to have their nails done at all times.

Think about it: Do you know what exactly goes into making your favorite nail polish colors? If you’ve never taken a  look at the ingredients in your nail polish, you might want to start now. Some of them can pose a deadly hazard to your health!

TPHP Dangers

Research conducted recently at the Duke University in association with Environmental Working Group, a leading public health advocacy organization, revealed that our nails tend to absorb a minimum of one hormone-disrupting and potentially-toxic chemical when we apply nail polish on them.

The study revealed the presence of triphenyl phosphate(1) (TPHP), a highly toxic, endocrine-disrupting chemical used extensively in almost all leading nail paints, in more than 24 participants.

The toxic chemical was found a mere 10 to 14 hours after the participants had polished their nails. The level of diphenyl phosphate, a toxic metabolite of TPHP, was also found increased by roughly sevenfold.

A senior researcher, who co-authored the research, said that it is incredibly troubling that the nail paints sold with hype amongst teenagers and women consist of a potential endocrine disruptor.

He further said that even more troubling is to know that their bodies tend to absorb this toxic chemical rather quickly on applying just a single coat of nail paint.

More than 1,500 nail paint products, including those manufactured by leading brands such as Wet N Wild, OPI, and Sally Hansen, contain high levels of TPHP.

More disturbing is the fact that numerous companies actually fail to disclose the products’ complete list of ingredient and, therefore, certain nail paints are likely to contain toxic chemicals that we don’t know.

In the study, researchers tested ten nail polishes, out of which two had high levels of TPHP, but the companies did not list the chemical on their labels.

However, it is not just about TPHP; we need to be more worried as there are several other chemicals hidden in your nail paint that have the potential to impact your health directly.

[ Read: Nails Trying to Tell You About Your Health ]

Most Common Ingredients Found in Traditional Nail Polishes:

  • Camphor
  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
  • Nitrocellulose
  • Formaldehyde (or derivatives)
  • Butyl or ethyl acetate
  • Parabens
  • Toluene
  • TPHP

Toxic Chemicals in Nail Polish


Though a few common nail polish ingredients have been phased out, the majority of nail polish makers are just exchanging old ingredients for newer ones that mostly exhibit the same impact on our health.

Mentality Nail Polish, a leading nail polish brand, was recently sued over claims of ruining consumers’ nails. The company also released a statement on its social pages, informing consumers that the damage was only a mild “sensitivity” to Arminex, an ingredient used as a base in the product.

After several rounds of debates, the nail polish maker recalled all products prepared with Arminex as a base.

If we carefully analyze each of these ingredients used in nail paints, we can quickly figure out why they are not the safest things to put on your nails.

side effects of nail polish

[Read: Are you Drinking Water at Right Time]

Let’s Now have a Look at What Each of these Chemicals Means to the Human Body:

Nitrocellulose: it is the same component that’s used to paint automobiles, along with their predominant used in explosives such as dynamite and fireworks. Though this chemical isn’t “overly toxic,” it is certainly not something you should be applying to your skin now and then and can cause a wide range of organ system toxicity.

Butyl/ethyl acetate: it is one of the most flammable substances available out there, along with being extremely toxic when ingested or inhaled. It can even cause some severe damage to your internal organs on prolonged exposure – those situations when you keep your nail paint on for weeks, months, or even years at a stretch.

Parabens: parabens are available in different varieties, and most of these are used to make nail paints. Parabens are highly toxic and, therefore, must be avoided. In nail polish, the function of parabens is to act as a preservative; however, these chemicals are known to cause breast cancer. Also, these chemicals deprive your nail bed of getting sufficient amount of natural vitamins from the sunlight (such as vitamin D), along with oxygen, both of which are necessary for maintaining happy, healthy nails.

Camphor: Camphor is used as a rust repellent, plasticizer(2), and for preventing the decay of dead insects in a wide range of bug collections. As such, camphor is exceptionally poisonous and can lead to body toxicity, irritability, and seizures.

DBP: This chemical, banned in Europe, is known for causing reproductive problems, particularly in males. Experts reveal that this chemical contains extremely high “danger level,” stating that DBP can lead to severe organ problems along with endocrine disruptions.

[ Read: Ways to Strengthen Nails ]

Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde resins used to be extremely popular and widely used in nail polishes during the last few decades. While most nail polish makers have already phased out this hazardous chemical, they are still being used in nail polishes by numerous manufacturers.

Formaldehyde is used for making plastic resins and paints. Formaldehyde resins are known to cause severe allergic reactions, discoloration, skin irritations, as well as a loss of nerve sensation. Also, this harmful chemical can also lead to a carcinogen and, therefore, you must undoubtedly avoid putting nail polishes containing formaldehyde on your nails.

Toluene: This harmful chemical tends to cause dizziness and severe reproductive harm. Health experts around the world warn that it can lead to a wide range of central nervous system issues. No surprises, toluene is also a significant component in gasoline.

TPHP: Several lab studies conducted around the world have found that exposure to TPHP leads to endocrine disruption. In several studies focused on animals, it was found that TPHP leads to severe developmental and reproductive problems.

Nails are not exactly permeable to most chemicals or molecules, but TPHP has the potential to permeate and get absorbed into our cuticle or in the skin surrounding the nails.

Also, TPHP also has the potential to make their way into your bloodstream once inhaled (in case you’re in a nail salon or a closed room during application) or being ingested (in case of nail-biting).

This chemical is used as a plasticizer in nail paints, which provides the nail polish its durability and flexibility. It is used for manufacturing plastic as a fire retardant in a wide range of foam furniture. Therefore, it is recommended to stay away from nail paints containing TPHP as much as you can.

Now as you’ve found that nail polish, no matter how expensive it is, can contain a wide range of harmful chemicals that can lead to several health complications – you must surely be wondering if there are some alternatives?

Well, there are!

[Read: Boost Your Immune System]

Is there a Natural Alternative?

side effects of nail polish

The best natural substitute is to let your nails grow naturally. Let them detox the decades of harmful nail paint and repair themselves.

While numerous nail polish brands claim to be natural and safe; however, they do not rank quite well in terms of the ingredients used. While they are technically a safe option, they still have several chemicals in them and, therefore, numerous health experts recommend not to use them as much as you can.

Here’s a list of some non-toxic, safe alternatives to nail polish:

  • Scotch Naturals
  • Piggy Paint
  • Sun coat
  • Acquarella
  • Honeybee Gardens

How to choose the right nail polish?

Most nail polish bottles and packages come with unique markings:

  • “5-Free” marking indicates that the nail polish does not consist of formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalates, formaldehyde resins, or camphor.
  • ”3-Free” marking indicates that the nail paint does not contain formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate.

[Read: How Much of Sugar Intake for Good Health]

The Bottom Line

Nail paints have been the fad amongst women of all ages and will, perhaps, always remain one of the most preferred cosmetic product around the world. Although they add to your appearance and personality, most nail polishes contain a wide range of harmful chemicals which, when applied to your nails, tend to cause several dangerous side effects.

To avoid the adverse effects of nail polish, the first thing is precaution: you must avoid applying nail polish as much as possible. Also, you may consider choosing nail paints that do not contain harmful chemicals or opt for several natural and safe alternatives such as Acquarella.

Even if you can’t resist, ensure you don’t leave nail paints on for a more extended period. Apply when required and clean out properly with a thinner or other nail polish remover as soon as possible.

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