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Do you enjoy the luxury of a manicure or pedicure, but are concerned about the safety of nail polishes?

Here’s your Tuesday Tip:  When it comes to safer nail polishes, including base and top coats, avoid the chemical ingredients formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate, aka the “Toxic Trio.”  You’ll be doing yourself a favor as well as the workers who are exposed to these hazardous substances everyday.

Understand the potential health impacts of the Toxic Trio and why they shouldn’t be in nail polishes or any other cosmetic product (or any other consumer product for that matter).

  • Formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and toluene are all linked to reproductive and developmental harm. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.  DBP may cause harm at very low levels of exposure and is banned in cosmetics in the European Union.  One study has shown a correlation between toluene exposure and spontaneous abortions, and exposure to toluene can also cause headaches and dizziness.
  • Women of reproductive age, and that’s the majority of nail salon workers, are especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of these toxic substances. So avoiding them when pregnant or might be pregnant, is a really good idea.  Click on each chemical to find out more about them, including their other links to disease and illness.

After you’re informed about the health effects, try to find out if the polishes or other nail products at your salon or retail store contain any of the Toxic Trio.

  • If you buy the product at a department or drugstore, read the label; it should list chemical ingredients.  Unfortunately, the label might not give you the complete picture: manufacturers do not have to list chemicals constituting a fragrance or any ingredient considered to be a “trade secret.”
  • At a nail salon, chances are the ingredients are not listed on the polish’s label, so ask to see the polish’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) with a list of ingredients.  Although nail salons should have an MSDS for all their chemical products, MSDSs are often inaccurate and difficult to obtain from the manufacturer.
  • Visit the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website for information on the ingredients and health hazards of many nail polishes and products and other cosmetics.
  • Also start reading up on the safety of chemical ingredients other than the Toxic Trio in your favorite nail polish on the Skin Deep website.

Do your best to choose a polish without the Toxic Trio.

  • Nail polishes without any of the Toxic Trio are often available at department or drugstores.  You should be able to find one you like.  But if they don’t have any without the Toxic Trio, tell them consumers want less toxic nail polishes and other products.
  • If your favorite nail polish at your salon contains any of the Toxic Trio, check out the other brands the salon carries.  Tell the manicurist and the manager that you prefer polishes without any of the Toxic Trio due to concerns about the potential health impacts on you, the manicurist, and others in the salons.

Last but not least, advocate for safer nail and other cosmetic products and services. Read up and speak out.  Current laws and regulations that govern cosmetic products fall far short of protecting women and the public’s health.

Visit our website to find out more about the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative which works to make salons safer for consumers, workers and owners.  Like us on Facebook.

Find out about and weigh in on national legislation that would make cosmetics safer by visiting the websites of the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Click here to send a message to manufacturers that we want safer, less toxic cosmetic products.

By Catherine A Porter, JD
California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative

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