8 Toxic Nail-Care Ingredients You Should Look Out For

Our nails are an important, albeit fragile, part of our bodies. Whether you wear your fingernails long or short, plain or polished, they deserve to be carefully looked after with regular treatment and attention. This is not least because our nails are a key indicator of our body’s overall physical health; lumps, bumps, white marks or rosy tinges could all be signs of problems in anything from the liver to the lungs or heart.

So since our nails are so integral to telling the story of our health, it makes sense that we wouldn’t do anything to compromise their wellbeing, right? Well, unfortunately, many of us may, in fact, be damaging our nails and exposing ourselves to toxic ingredients, without even realizing it.

The Toxic Truth 

Nail polish manufacturers have long been known to choose ingredients of questionable safety in order to create durable, glossy formulas that sell well. It was previously a popular assumption that the chemicals present in nail polish aren’t absorbed directly, yet many polishes contain solvents and other substances that increase absorption, and contact with the cuticles can draw chemicals into the body.

This is why in more recent years, pressure from safety-conscious consumers has led nail polish brands to begin labeling their products as 3-free to indicate the absence of harmful components, formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate and toluene in their mixtures. Yet this does not go far enough to protect our talons from toxins. 

In fact, there are at least 8 chemicals known to be potentially devastating for our health that can be found in popular nail polish brands, which we think you deserve to be aware of.

What’s even more troubling, is that many of the brands proudly claiming to be ‘3-free’ are now replacing the phthalates they have dropped from their polish formula with a compound called triphenyl phosphate (TPHP). TPHP is used in plastics manufacturing as a fire retardant in foam furniture, but a study co-authored by researchers at Duke University and the Environmental Working Group detected the chemical in the bodies of women who volunteered to paint their nails for the study. Both TPHP and phthalates are suspected endocrine disruptors, which means they are thought to wreak havoc on the reproductive system and normal hormonal function.

So what can you do to protect yourself from nasty nail polish chemicals?

Your best bet is to opt for brands that promote the use of natural formulas, particularly those that can assert themselves to be at least ‘5-free’ (meaning they do not include known toxic chemicals in their polish). This doesn’t mean you should stop getting mani-pedis altogether, just try to limit your exposure to harmful nail polish formulas as much as possible.

Here’s a guide to the scary-sounding names you should be looking out for:

1. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)

Dibutyl phthalate is what’s known as a plasticizer, which is what gives nails that shiny look and is used in long-wear formulas for improved polish durability. DBP is known as an endocrine disruptor and can damage the liver and kidney as well as the reproductive system.

2. Toluene

This chemical can be found in a whole host of cosmetics, from nail polish to hair dye, but is also an ingredient in glues and gasoline. It’s a powerful neurotoxin, meaning it can cause neurological damage, decreased brain function, as well as impaired breathing and hearing loss. It should especially be avoided by pregnant women, as inhalation of toluene could lead to birth and developmental defects.

3. Camphor

Though it can be found in the wood of the camphor tree, its use in nail polish (to add shine and gloss) can trigger severe allergic reactions. Inhalation may cause dizziness, headaches, and nausea and could also lead to liver dysfunction.

4. Xylene

This toxic chemical is not only found in nail polish but also petroleum products and paint thinners. Though it’s included to help maintain your polish’s smooth consistency, its side effects in the human body range from headaches and dizziness, to disruption of the respiratory system, kidney, and gastrointestinal toxicity.

5. Formaldehyde

You’ve probably heard of this ingredient in a more sinister setting, as it’s used as a preservative in mortuaries. In nail polish, the chemical is used to harden and strengthen the lacquer, but it can provoke allergic reactions, asthma, nausea, and is even linked to miscarriages and cancer. 

6. Formaldehyde Resin

A by-product of formaldehyde itself, formaldehyde resin adds depth, shine, and hardness to nail polish. However, much like its origin ingredient, the toxic resin can cause allergic reactions and is harmful to the reproductive system.

7. Ethyl Tosylamide

Ethyl Tosylamide is used as a plasticizer in nail polish, to increase the longevity of the lacquer. However, its antibiotic properties are a concern abroad where the ingredient has been banned in European personal care products, due to the danger of antibiotic resistance.

8. Parabens

Parabens are actually a group of ingredients that act as preservatives and are designed to keep bacteria, mold, and fungi from growing in your cosmetic products. However, parabens have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and skin cancer.

What can you do to help your nails recover from damage?

If your nails have taken a hit in the health department of late, and you want to restore them to their natural best after exposure to harmful toxins, your best bet is a nail treatment solution.

Organica’s Nail Guardian is a completely safe, paraben and sulfate-free formula, consisting only of ethically sourced, natural ingredients. Its special blend of eucalyptus, jasmine, lemongrass and tea tree oils helps your nails fight toxins the natural way, strengthening and hydrating the nail bed and cuticles in the process. 

For best results, we recommend you brush a small amount of rejuvenating serum into your nails and fingers until fully absorbed. Reapply twice daily for up to 4 weeks for noticeably stronger, healthier nails.


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