When studies first showed that conventional nail polishes contained three toxic substances that were linked to skin irritation, hormonal disorders and cancer, nail polish brands stepped up to offer products formulated without these scary chemicals.
First came 3-Free nail polishes - polishes that were formulated without the three toxic chemicals. Then, as the list of nasty ingredients started growing, 5-Free and 7-Free versions popped up (scroll to the bottom of this story for what exactly you’re supposed to avoid and why).
Now, recent medical studies have shown that an eighth chemical – triphenyl phosphate, or TPHP - should be avoided as well.
Why? According to tests, TPHP is an endocrine disruptor that interferes with your hormones and causes reproductive and developmental problems. Scientists believe it could also cause weight gain, although conclusive results are pending.
And it doesn’t even need to be directly on your skin for it to affect you. In a Duke University study, researchers found that significant amounts of the chemical stayed the urine of study participants 10 to 14 hours after their nails had been painted with a polish that contained just one per cent TPHP.
That study was done in collaboration with The Environment Working Group, a non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. The group has since filed a petition to nail polish companies to remove TPHP from their products.
It’s also published a database of brands and products containing TPHP and other hazardous substances.
Needless to say, we’ve since been even more careful about what we’ve been painting our nails with. One of our fave non-toxic options now: Homegrown brand Coat Colours’ polishes. They’re not just 5-Free - as the packaging used to state as that was the gold standard at the time the brand was launched - but 7- and TPHP-Free as well. (Look out for new packaging soon that will reflect this elevated 8-Free status.)
Founder of Coat Colours Caryn Lim says, “There’s a small but growing demand here for toxic nail polish, so we created Coat Colours to meet that demand and also to offer shades suited to Asian skin tones.”
Other brands that are also free of TPHP and that come recommended by Zi Sha, owner of AUUM The Honest Nail Spa, which only uses non-toxic polishes, include Zoya, Scotch Naturals, NCLA, Priti NYC, Deborah Lippman and Butter London.
Below, the full list of nasty stuff you should be wary of when shopping for nail polish.
Nail polish ingredients to stay away from
Known to cause dizziness and even reproductive problems.
Carcinogenic if inhaled too much.
#3 Dibuthyl phthalate
Causes endocrine problems and organ dysfunction.
#4 Formaldehyde resin
Known to cause contact dermatitis.
Dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn children.
A possible carcinogen that can cause skin irritation and liver and kidney problems too.
#7 Ethyl tosylamide
Often added for its antibiotic properties but can cause antibiotic resistance in the long term.
#8 Triphenyl phosphate
Interferes with hormones and causes reproductive and developmental problems.