Is Your Nail Polish Toxic?

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If you’re like me, you love to have pretty nails. Nails are awesome! They allow you the freedom to constantly change your look, based on your mood, without the far larger commitment of say getting married or cutting your hair. I wear different polishes all the time of all colors, including blue, pink, yellow and of course, all shades of pink, and red. But we have to remember that nails are part of our skin and are porous. Nail polish can be toxic if you don’t use the right kind.

Toxins in Nail Polish

Nail polish frequently has three ingredients that are highly toxic, often called the “toxic trio.” In fact, a recent California investigation found that even some salon brands labeled “non-toxic” had these three ingredients, even though they weren’t listed on the label. What?! Sneaky! And super annoying, given the care many of us take to keep toxins out of our bodies and off our fingernails. The three dangerous chemicals found in nail polish include:


This is an industrial solvent. It’s used to manufacture many things including paints, rubber, and other chemicals, as well as gasoline, airplane glue, and shoe polish. I’m pretty sure people wouldn’t smear this sweet smelling chemical all over their skin, but when you apply it to your finger and toenails as an ingredient in finger polish, that’s exactly what you’re doing! Your nails are part of your skin and very porous, so ingredients in beauty products can make their way into your system. According to Medscape, toluene has central nervous system effects. It crosses the blood-brain barrier and interacts with important neurotransmitters like GABA and dopamine. CNS effects include vertigo, seizures, coma, cerebral and cerebellar degeneration, seizures, decreased cognition, blindness, and many others. Likewise, toluene affects other body systems as well, including your heart and lungs with symptoms ranging from acute (asphyxiation) to chronic (acute lung injury.) It also affects your liver, kidneys, and musculoskeletal systems, among others. Affects of toluene include:

Contact dermatitis

  • Chemical burns
  • Skin necrosis
  • Inhibition of bone formation
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Hepatitis


This colorless gas is a chemical compound commonly used as a preservative. When formaldehyde comes in contact with skin (which is what your nails consist of), it can cause contact dermatitis, blistering, and chemical burns. Exposure to low amounts of formaldehyde may lead to eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation. High levels can cause irregular heartbeat, pulmonary swelling, and even death. Not something you’d really want on or in your body, yet it is a common ingredient in nail polish.

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)

This ingredient, which also is called benzenedicarboxylic acid, dibutyl ester, and other names, is a common additive in fragrances, plastics, and solvents. According to the Environmental Work Group the European Union has banned this ingredient for use in cosmetics. Unfortunately, it is used in cosmetics in the United States. Among the many concerns with DBP in humans are:

  • Reproductive toxicity
  • Nervous system toxicity
  • Developmental delays
  • Endocrine (hormone) disruption
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Lung irritant

A Better Choice 

So what’s a girl to do if she wants pretty hands and feet? There are better brands of polishes out there. My favorite and only brand I recommend is Vapour Organic Beauty Nail Polish.  It is the shiniest and most chip-resistant one I’ve found, free of the big 3 nail polish toxins. It’s made entirely from organic plants. vitamins, and minerals! Ive been using it and it works great, probably one of my favorite organic makeup brands! Its safe for children, completely non toxic, & Cruelty Free!



Last updated: Thursday, June 18, 2015
  • Rebecca

    Thank you for this post! I’ve been thinking about women’s products for some time and love that you are posting your research and recommendations.
    I’d love to see a post on Natural hair color sometime as well.

  • sara

    most nail polish these days are big 3 free anyway

  • Janice

    Interesting article! I think Butter London is also free of the big 3.

  • Caroline

    Great article – nice, informative! Tate’s sells natural nail remover.

  • Chloe

    What about zoya? I heard it was non toxic but haven’t done my research on it.

  • Amanda

    Butter London polish is listed as 3-free as well. Great colors and a fun bottle!

  • Ani

    Yes all in favor and take my own supplies to manicurist. There is another line of nail polish and remover, and lipstick and gloss line that is mostly organically sourced AND it is created in NYC called PeaceKeeper Cause-Metics. I think you will love them too.

  • Roberta

    Darn! I just got several of your prior suggestion: Zoya. Are they one of the ok one’s or have they used selective thinking as far as their labeling goes as well?

  • Ibrahim

    Thank Kim.

    Being a regular kind of guy, I don’t partake in nail polish, but boy is it a big deal for my dear female friends. Accordingly, I am passing along your wisdom to a few friends.

    Thanks for your great work. You are an exceptional person.

  • Iryna

    I was just browsing the internet for non-toxic nail polishes today! Thank you so much for the information. You are great! :)

  • laccbeauty

    Hi Kim,
    Thanks so much for writing this great article! Most people forget about the harmful chemicals in nail polish and it’s so important to remind them. We’re a new line of vegan nail polish without any of the 3 toxic chemicals mentioned above :) We’re getting ready to launch in North America, and we’ll also have an online store soon. Come check us out! xoxo – la couleur couture

  • Sandi Nall

    What product should we use to remove the nail polish? Thanks for the brands to buy, I will certainly purchase whichever brand that I can find.

  • http://yahoo Carrie

    Where can you find the brands of nail polish and the price? Thank you

  • Christine

    What about these new “Gel” manicures? They are fabulous, keep nails strong…….but are they dangerous?

  • Danielle

    Have you heard of Julep? If so, would you recommend them? They are toxin free also.

  • Amber

    Another awesome all natural/organic nail polish for little girls is called Eco Princess Organics! It is a water-based nail polish without the harmful toxins, and perfect for any little girl who wants to paint her nails. Highly recommend these polishes. We also include a reusable eco-friendly bag for our sets of 3 polishes. :-)

  • Denitsa

    I actually don’t use nail polish unless I have to my job doesn’t allow it and my lifestyle doesn’t require it so I guess it’s up to me to have my nails painted on my days off to be honest I would use it maybe once or twice a year but the information is greatly appreciated and I will look for one or two shades to have for those few occasions thank you for sharing those brands

  • dlh

    Also, Butter of London makes polish that does NOT contain these harmful ingredients. If you live in Delaware, you can find it at Houppette in Greenville!

  • lynn ruddell

    Hi i used the suncoat polish it was great but the remover did not work.
    Any suggestions?

  • Gabriela

    Interesting, but where can we find these nail polish brands? Are they in Canada also?

  • Jessica

    Suncoat is a Canadian company and is sold at major health food stores – so great!

  • Norine

    What is a safe nail polish remover to use? I also would like to know your recommendations for natural hair color. I have been considering using a Henna Hair color bar from Lush, what do you think?

  • Alaina

    Thank you for the great article! Super helpful! My neighborhood Whole Foods just opened an amazing non-toxic nail salon that I love & am amazed that the polish lasts longer than any regular manicure I’ve ever had, but the best part is the healthy, non-toxic odor free experience! For anyone in the San Jose, CA area, be sure to check it out!

  • Lisa

    Zoya is free of 5 toxins, it’s also vegan. :)

  • Shannon

    Have you considered trying Jamberry Nail wraps? They’re nontoxic, vegan, made in America, and last much longer than polish. I could send you some to review, if you’d like. Anyone else wanting to try them can get a free sample from me as well. all you need to apply them is a hair dryer to heat the adhesive, nail clippers or small scissors to trim them to size, and pressure. You get enough on a sheet to do at least 2 full manicures and pedicures, more if you have shorter nails. They last for 2-3 weeks on hands and 6-8 weeks on toes. Let me know if you’d like to review them and I’ll get them to you ASAP!! :)

    • Linda

      I would like to get a sample, they sound very interesting, as I have cancer and now polish is a no, no, and my enjoyment of pretty nails has left me a little depressed. Thanls

    • pamela

      hi shannon, i’d love to try them as i’m looking for something less toxic while pregnant. my email is thank you!

    • Elysa

      I would love to try a sample, as I am very picky as to what goes on my nails..

  • Nuppu

    Kure Bazaar nail polishes are so great!
    Formula up to 85% of natural origin based on wood pulp, wheat, cotton, potatoes and corn.

  • Arisa

    OMG! I just did my nails yesterday and then did a different color this morning! Do you know any other good brands because last time i counted my nail polish I had 72. Most of them are Sally Hansen, OPI, 5 star, Essie. and more but are those really a good brand? How much was that Vapour Organic Beauty Nail Polish? Where did you get that from? Thanks Kimberly.

    – Arisa

    • Peg

      Have you tried Dr. Remedy’s nail polish? It is all natural. Can be found on Green Elephant’s facebook and website. Check this polish out.

    • Sandy

      Check out up and coming brand Authority Cosmetics! It’s 5-free, vegan friendly, and cruelty free. It’s also made in the US. Just starting out with 10 colors but I know there’s more planned. Colors so far are great. You can find them on Facebook (search Authority Cosmetics) while the website is under construction.

  • Heidi

    For an even safer option than a 3-free solvent-based nail polish, you could try a water-based nail polish. There are also special non-toxic removers that go with these water based polishes. Suncoat and Eco Princess are just a couple of the brands on the market.

    I don’t see how the recommend Vapour nail polish could be “made entirely from organic plants. vitamins, and minerals” when it contains the basic ingredients of any solvent-based nail polish (Butyl Acetate, Ethyl Acetate, and Nitrocellulose). Maybe it’s colored with plants and minerals.

  • http://Polishes Regina

    I have worked in the nail industry for almost 20 years. I have read a lot of articles on this subject, and the most recent study showed that there was very few polishes that don’t contain those 3 ingredients. One of them was Zoya. They are a Cleveland based company. They said that most companies don’t contain those ingredients, but after testing they found that they do. One that makes that claim is opi. Don’t trust everything you read on packaging. Which is not fair to the customer.

  • Eugenia Hubbard

    There is so much to look out for. I am glad that there are safe nail polishes to use.

  • Pur Essence Anti Aging

    I think that is one of the so much vital information for me.
    And i’m satisfied reading your article. However wanna commentary on few common things, The site taste is perfect, the articles is in reality nice : D. Just right task, cheers

  • nancy

    My (ex) sister has lung cancer and cancer in the esophagus. She has always polished her nails and now as a diabetic goes to a salon to have it done and nails cut. When I was caring for her I advised her not to use polish and if she had to have them cut her nails, then to insist upon a mask. She came back at me later telling me her cancer doctor said it would be okay for her to have her nails polished in the salon–no problem and did not advise her to wear a mask. I downloaded information of how toxic it was for her. She then went behind my back and complained and criticized to my brother/wife that I was telling her what to do, what to eat (she hates all veggies) and that I would download and print information to her. Now the family has disowned me. Her problem now. Can lead the horse to water, but you cannot make them drink (what is good for them).

  • Kim

    Are any of the ingredients in Piggy Paints bad?
    Water, acrylates copolymers, melia azadirachta (neem oil). May contain: mica, red 34 lake, ultramarines, titanium dioxide, iron oxide pigments.

  • Tina

    I’ve used Zoya and it really lasted! Butter, not so much – unfortunately.

  • gazete

    Thanks for some other great article. Where else may just anybody get that type of information in such a perfect manner of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m at the look for such info.

  • howard g. fass

    We have just launched a new nail polish line-up of products that are completely non-toxic / non-harmful. Its a water-based formulation that has taken ten years to perfect. We are rather excited about it and believe that it will revolutionize the industry and provide beauty fashion without compromising health and safety.

    Thought you guys would find this of interest…



    • Pearl

      hi howard! what brand is this? is this out in the market?