Hands and Feet

Go Natural with Your Nail Polish, and Ditch the Toxic Fumes!

+ Pamela Friedman

Ladies, now that you’re going through chemotherapy, you may be working extra hard on your appearance…especially if your hair has fallen out. Having pretty nails is a great way to look put together, but how many of us like the smelly fumes and toxic chemicals in the polish?

That sharp odor comes from a mix of alcohol, solvents and resins that gives polish its ability to adhere to the nail, deliver the pigment, and resist chipping and peeling. Unfortunately, with repeated exposure, several of these ingredients are highly toxic as well as pungent, especially to sensitive and compromised nails. But since treatment may be leaving your nails brittle and discolored, you’ll probably want to cover up with nail polish. Is there an alternative?

Browse the nail-polish aisle and you’ll find a lot of pretty names like Siberian Nights and Shanghai Shimmer, but the words in the ingredient lists are significantly less flattering. Many brands contain chemicals like toluene and formaldehyde, and some still contain Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)-though the European Union has banned it from their cosmetics.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found DBP and other phthalates-which have been associated with reproductive abnormalities-in the bloodstream of every person they tested, but still the FDA has taken no action to ban the ingredient. The Environmental Working Group attributed the presence of DBP in young woman to the use of nail polish, and warned moms to stay away. Fortunately, many major manufacturers are beginning to create formulas without this toxic ingredient.

Toluene, when inhaled in large doses, has been reported to cause extreme fatigue, mental confusion, nausea, headache and dizziness. As for formaldehyde, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends it be handled as a potential occupational carcinogen. Lab studies have shown rats exposed to the vapors developed nasal cancer. Even simple inhalation can cause throat irritation, coughing, and shortness of breath, and the chemical is known to absorb into the skin.

And then we have the polish removers. Full of things like acetone (known to irritate the eyes and lungs) and ethyl acetate (highly flammable, can lead to neurological damage), they tend to dry skin and nails, making your hands look worse. None of this sounds so pretty after all, does it?

Thankfully, we can avoid these chemicals and still have pretty nails. As long as your nails aren’t broken or exposing wounded skin, we encourage you to use nail polish, but opt for safer formulas. Gentler products do exist, and they’re usually labeled “water-based” and/or claim to be free of these dangerous chemicals. Some examples: Honeybee Gardens WaterColors and Odorless Nail Polish Remover, Dr. Remedy Nail Products (love this brand!), Acquarella Water Color, No Miss “Almost Natural” Nail Polish Remover, Tate’s Natural Miracle Odorless Nail Polish Remover, Peacekeeper Natural Nail Polish, and SunCoat products.

To determine the toxic rating on your favorite polish, check out the Safe Cosmetics listing of many popular brands. And if you’re getting your nails manicured, make sure to take your gentler polish and remover with you-you’re more likely to avoid infection and stay safe.

Have some non-toxic nail polishes or removers to recommend? Let us know!

Photo courtesy of Snap Village