Girls love nail polish.  In fact, according to market surveys, 97% of American girls between 12 and 14 years of age use it.  While many parents think nail polish for young girls is a harmless precursor to makeup, they may want to think again.  Recent studies show toxic chemicals in nail polish have the potential to cause serious health problems for females of all ages.


Manufacturers use the chemical toluene to dissolve paint, and workers using the product are protected from inhaling it.  Unfortunately, girls and women across the country inhale toluene every day when they paint their nails.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, inhalation of toluene is linked to a number of health issues including confusion, memory loss, physical weakness, headache, nausea, vision problems, hearing loss, and liver and kidney damage.


Di-butyl phthalate, or DBP, is a chemical commonly used for making plastics more flexible.  In nail polish, it acts as a solvent and it keeps polishes from becoming too brittle.  Unfortunately, DBP has been found to disrupt the endocrine system, which affects hormones, brain development, and fertility.  Exposure to DBP may also increase risks for cancers of the breast, prostate, thyroid, and ovaries.

In an effort to remove toxic chemicals in nail polish and those found in other cosmetics and children's products, the European Union banned the use of DBP in 2003.  Since 2006, most American nail polish manufacturers have removed DBP from their products as well.  However, many have replaced this chemical with another chemical that may be just as harmful.



In an effort to remove DBP from nail polish products, some companies have turned to triphenyl phosphate, or TPHP.  Like DBP, TPHP makes nail polish more flexible and durable, but it also comes with similar health concerns.

Mounting evidence links TPHP to disrupted hormonal regulation, metabolism, reproduction, and development.  Recently, scientists at Duke University in conjunction with the nonprofit environmental research organization, EWG (Environmental Working Group) found metabolites of TPHP in the bodies of 24 women who had painted their nails 10 to 14 hours earlier.  According to EWG's cosmetics database, over 1,500 nail polish products contain this hazardous chemical.

Women of any age shouldn't have to worry about toxic chemicals in nail polish or any other cosmetics.  Many manufacturers now make non-toxic, water-based polishes free of solvents and phthalates.  Some companies even offer vegan or gluten-free products.  Women who enjoy an occasional mani-pedi can bring these safe and natural products along to their next appointment.