The Truth About Nail Polish - Is It Safe? September 25, 2020

The Truth About Nail Polish - Is It Safe? September 25, 2020

Did you know that since about 3,000 BC, people have worn nail polish to add a touch of style to their hands and feet? 

It’s true!

Made from ingredients like vegetable dyes, egg whites, beeswax, and gelatin, people of ancient China and Egypt wore specific nail polish colors, which were used to indicate social status.

Today, many women (and men) love going to nail salons for manicures or pedicures. 

The problem with this, however, is modern nail polish is much different from what the ancient Chinese and Egyptian peoples wore. 

In fact, wearing certain types of nail polishes too often, or for too long, can cause lasting damage to your nails, cuticles, and skin. 

What nail salons don’t tell you is that the products they use contain dangerous chemicals that could potentially leech into your body.  

This is exactly why experts recommend only wearing nail polish for a week or two before taking it off. Then, once removed, it’s best not to reapply for another few weeks, which gives your nails time to recover. 

The reason for this is because nails are permeable. So when you keep nail polish on for too long, your nails can start to absorb the pigment and the other chemicals from the product. 

When your nails absorb these ingredients, they tend to dry out, leaving you prone to developing fungus, bacteria, and yeast under your nail plates. 

All of these issues can lead to serious problems that require professional care. 

But nasty nail issues aside, most nail polishes contain at least one or more chemical ingredients. 

In fact, according to the David Suzuki Foundation 2010 report, What’s Inside? That Counts, 80% of the mass-produced cosmetics you buy contain at least one of the “dirty dozen” chemical ingredients linked to health and environmental concerns. These concerns include severe allergies, asthma, cancer, and reproductive disorders. 

the scented bohemian, on the other hand, offers a lineup of completely natural skin and body care products that do not contain ANY of these ingredients. 



What’s In Your Nail Polish?

Most commercial nail polish is made with at least 3 chemicals, which can be found on the “dirty dozen” list of chemical ingredients, which experts recommend being on the lookout for in your skin or body care products. 

When it comes to nail polish, the three most common chemicals you’ll find are formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). 

But if our fingernails are permeable, could these nasty chemicals be absorbed into your bloodstream?

Let’s take a quick look at each of these, and see just how they can impact your health when absorbed into your system. 



As a chemical regulated by Health Canada, formaldehyde is used in a variety of commercial cosmetics products. 

In nail polish, formaldehyde is used to help the polish stick to the nail. And it also gives dried nail polish that glossy shine we all like. But the scary part of this chemical being in your nail polish is that formaldehyde is linked to the development of cancer.  

In Canada, nail hardeners and polishes can only contain a maximum of 5% formaldehyde concentration, which is why nail polishes must also include a warning about skin sensitivity issues.  



While this is great to know about products made here in Canada, what does it say about nail polishes and products that are imported from other countries? 

Recently, there was a CBC segment titled Shady Business, which tested a variety of skin lightening products sold here in Canada to see if their ingredients were legal in the country. 

Shockingly, many of those products sold on Canadian drugstore shelves were imported from China, and despite Canadian regulations, contained banned ingredients. 

So what does that say about imported nail polishes and products? Are importers following Health Canada regulations?

I have to ask myself if it’s worth the risk.



Although you’ll find this chemical in most nail polish products, toluene is most commonly known as household paint thinner. 

The most common side effects of toluene exposure include an irritated nose, throat, and eyes, numbness, dry skin, dizziness, and numbness. However, long-term health effects include damage to the central nervous system, respiratory system, kidneys, liver. 

Not to mention the fact that breathing high levels of toluene during pregnancy has been known to result in birth defects, as well as reduced mental abilities and growth in children. There is also evidence that toluene exposure is linked to spontaneous abortion.



Dibutyl Phthalate - DBP 

A common plasticizer, dibutyl phthalate, more commonly known as DBP, is used to make nail polishes (and other products) more flexible. 

However, short-term exposure to DBP is known to cause an irritated nose, eyes, and throat, and nausea, as well as being closely linked to reproductive issues in rats

In addition to these 3 extremely common chemical ingredients, a few other potentially harmful chemicals to be aware of include: 


  • Acetone
  • Methacrylic acid
  • Ethyl acetate
  • Isopropyl acetate
  • Acetonitrile
  • Butyl acetate
  • Ethyl methacrylate


You’ll often find these potentially harmful chemicals in the following nail salon products: 


  • Nail polish removers
  • Primers
  • Artificial nail liquids
  • Nail glue removers
  • Nail polishes
  • Nail hardeners
  • Gels
  • Shellacs
  • Acrylics
  • Fillers
  • Disinfectants




Does this mean that nail polish is dangerous to use?

It’s not necessarily dangerous to wear nail polish or to visit a nail salon and apply other products to your fingernails. 

However, the fact is that our skin and nails are permeable, which means that the chemicals we apply to them can leach into our bodies. Plus, wearing nail polish too often, or for too long can dry out and cause further chips, cracks, and splits in your nails. 

At the same time, those who visit nail salons regularly, work in them, or simply use an abundance of nail polishes and products at home, risk exposing themselves to and breathing in these chemicals during their application. 

Have you ever been walking through a mall when suddenly, you’re hit in the face with the smell of a nail salon, and the abundance of strong, offensive smelling products they use? 

Personally, I find the smell of nail salons so strong that it makes me walk by them quicker just to get away from the stink! 

But in addition to their offensive smells, certain nail salon treatments pose more of a health risk than others. 



For instance, and especially when it comes to visiting the nail salon, gel polishes, powders, or dip polishes go hand-in-hand with exposing you to chemicals during the preparation process, as well as U.V. exposure, the communal sharing of jars, and the harsh filing you get during a manicure or pedicure, which can cause damage to your nails and skin. 

For safer nail treatment options, try traditional nail polish, or non-toxic nail polish. 

And when you do decide to apply nail polish or other chemical products to your nails, make sure that you’re doing so in a well-ventilated area so reduce your risk of breathing in any dangerous fumes. 

Natural Nail Polish Alternatives

The good news about all of this is that not all nail polishes are created alike, and there are a few natural nail polish alternatives you can look for. 

Unlike most major commercial companies, the following nail polish manufacturers strive to produce products that are free from toxins and other dangerous chemicals that can have an impact on your short and long-term health. 


As both a vegan and cruelty-free nail polish, Londontown offers a variety of natural nail polish alternatives that are ‘5-free’, which includes being camphor-free, resin-free, toluene-free, formaldehyde-free, and DBP-free.


With a focus on consumer health and wellness, Zoya also offers a range of natural nail polish products. However, Zoya was one of the first ‘5-free’ nail care companies to hit the market. 

Piggy Paint

Piggy Paint provides water-based nail polishes that are completely free from acetone, bisphenol A (BPA), toluene, formaldehyde, ethyl acetate, and phthalates. 



Natural Hand, Nail, And Skin Care 

Getting a manicure or pedicure once in a while will not damage your nails, skin, or have a huge impact on your overall health. However, it’s important to be aware of the chemicals that you might be exposing yourself to in doing so. 

Due to the upkeep and my inability to make a manicure last more than a couple of days, I’ve seldom worn nail polish on my fingers, but up until a few years ago, my toenails have almost always been painted.  

I started questioning the safety of nail polish and polish remover many years ago, but vanity always won. 

I’ve suffered from headaches since adolescence and h questioned what the underlying cause could be. I’ve since given up polishing my toenails to determine if it would make a difference. 

And while I’m not sure I’ve seen any drastic changes by eliminating nail polish from my life, the more I research the subject, the more cautious I’m becoming. 

Does that mean I’ll never wear polish again?  Probably not, but I will look for the safest alternatives available! 



For me, the best solution is to invest in alternative nail polish products that are made without harmful toxins or chemicals in the first place. 

If you’re facing any fingernail or skin issues, it’s important to know that there are many natural solutions available that can help you, without putting your health at risk. 

the scented bohemian is proud to offer a range of completely natural hand and skin care products, such as our Chapped Skin Care, Moroccan Rose Body Polish, or Whipped Shea & Calendula Balm, all of which are sure to have your hands looking their best in no time. 

Got any other natural hand or nail care tips? We’d love to hear it in the comments below! 

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