How Toxic Is Your Nail Polish?

How Toxic Is Your Nail Polish?

Ever since recent studies revealed the high levels of toxic metals in lipstick and the harmful effects of parabens in makeup, we’re starting to realize just how important it is to stay educated on exactly what we’re putting on our bodies.

First on our list? Nail polish. You may have noticed your favorite brands touting the fact that they’re “3-Free” or “5-Free” on their labels, but other than being a vaguely positive thing, what exactly does it mean? Today, we’re going back to basics and schooling you on everything you need to know about toxicity and polish—and a recent study you should definitely be aware of.

Keep reading to learn how toxic your nail polish really is, and shop our favorite 5-free polishes!

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    The Toxic Trio

    Nail polishes that claim they’re 3-Free are referring to the fact that they aren’t made with a common trio of toxic ingredients: tuolene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate (otherwise known as DBP). Tuolene is a solvent that helps your polish go on smoothly, but is shown to be neurotoxic. Formaldehyde is a nail strengthener, but also happens to be a cancer-causing preservative. Dibutyl phthalate is a chemical known for interfering with reproductive hormones. Thankfully, most polishes you buy in stores are labeled as 3-free, with major players like OPI setting the tone for the rest of the industry. 

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    Be Aware

    In less encouraging news, a report from California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control found that many polishes that claimed to be 3-free actually contained those very chemicals, sometimes at higher levels than polishes that didn’t make the claim. Yikes. Luckily, all of these polishes came directly from salons, and weren’t brands you would find at your neighborhood drugstore or beauty store. Though this report was done two years ago, it’s still better to err on the safe side— so always bring your own polish to your nail salon, or choose a polish from a brand you have researched and trust (we’ve got a couple of our faves ahead!)


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    What About 5-Free?

    5-Free polishes go a step further and claim to be free of two more ingredients: formaldehyde resin and camphor. Though no link has been established between formaldehyde resin and cancer, it’s still a known skin allergen and can cause dermatitis. Camphor, on the other hand, is a natural ingredient—but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Inhaling it in large doses can cause nausea, dizziness, and headaches.


    Next, our favorite shades from 5-free nail polish brands!

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    Deborah Lippmann Nail Polish ($18) in Don’t Stop Believin’

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    Zoya Nail Polish ($9) in Muse

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    RGB Nail Polish ($18) in Dove


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    Côte Nail Polish ($16)

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    TenOverTen Nail Polish ($18) in Prince


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    Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Nail Polish ($10) in Something

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    NCLA Los Angeles Nail Polish ($16) in Not So Sweet


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    JinSoon Nail Lacquer ($18) in Nostalgia


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    Chanel La Vernis Nail Color ($27) in Rouge Rubis

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