Concerns Arise Over Toxins in ‘Nontoxic’ Nail Polish

Target: Dr. Ron Chapman, Director of the California Department of Public Health

Goal: Ensure a healthy work environment in California salons by banning nail products containing any level of toxins.

A new report from California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) sheds light on an alarming trend concerning some salon-quality nail polishes and the chemicals they contain.  After testing 25 random samplings of nail polishes taken from San Francisco-area salons, investigators found that many of the selected polishes tested positive for a trio of toxic chemicals. Duly deemed the “toxic trio,” this dangerous cocktail of hazardous ingredients—which include toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde,–are of growing concern to health officials who say these are responsible for a plethora of afflictions including asthma, birth defects, and other severe health conditions.

What is more, many professional nail polish manufacturers have been mislabeling their products as if they were free from these toxins.  In the course of their research, the DTSC found that not only did 10 out of 12 products that attested to being ‘toxic-free’ actually contained harmful levels of toluene (and four of these contained dangerously high levels of the contaminant).  And while Europe has placed a ban on all nail products containing DBP, the United States has not followed suit—despite pressure from activists.

As if the inclusion of these harmful products were not enough, the casual claims of ‘toxin-free’ products seem to be pulling a fast one on those who are at most risk of immediate and future harm, so says Julia Liou of the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance.  “Many salons choose brands that do not contain toluene and dibutyl phthalate as a way to protect workers and customers from potentially harmful exposure to these chemicals,” explained Liou.  “The fact that some manufacturers are making false claims regarding their ingredients is a major public health problem.”

While the nail polishes tested are not intended for retail, it still raises alarm for the approximately 48,000 nail salons in California alone, and particularly the 121,000 nail technicians and 284,000 cosmetologists who supply customers with nail services. For these workers (98 percent being women), this continued exposure could mean severe long term health risks.  “We are alarmed by the results of this report,” explained Liou. “The misbranding of products is not only a major public health problem, but also interferes with a salon worker’s right to a safe and healthy work environment.”


Dear Dr. Chapman,

Hidden within nail products across the state are known chemicals that are known to be harmful to human health.  Referred to as the ‘toxic trio,’ toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DPB) and formaldehyde have serious immediate and future health implications like asthma, birth defects, and other chronic illnesses.  What is more, often times the products that contain these harmful elements are mislabeled as safe for use.

For the thousands of salon workers and nail technicians that come into contact with these products on a daily business, this misbranding is an important issue that cannot be ignored.  In order to best ensure the safety of these workers and the customers that attend their businesses, California needs to place a ban on the products that contain these toxins.

And until it can be certain that the ‘toxic-trio’ is no longer in nail products, stricter rules must be put into place that would require proper labeling of nail polishes.  Only by doing so, can the state lessen the risk of future health concerns for the many individuals involved in this business.


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