Nail Polish is Awesome. Chemicals Are Not.

Nail polish is hotter than ever, but the average bottle still contains too many chemicals.

Nail polishNail polish isn’t just a beauty trend—it’s a health concern. Photo via Shutterstock

In the fickle world of beauty trends, few things have been as enduringly popular over the past few years as nail polish. A New York Times article from last spring reported that nail color brought in a whopping $710 million in sales in 2011, up 67 percent from 2010. And if the Grammys Mani Cam—an E!-sponsored camera that broadcast celebrity manicures to at-home viewers—is any indication, the nail polish trend will hold firm for years to come. But as popular as the nail polish craze has become, it isn’t without risk. The tell-tale odor of nail salons alone should be a tip off that the stuff isn’t exactly healthy, but there may be more chemicals lurking in your bottle of lacquer than you think.

In fact, the average ingredient list on a bottle of nail polish reads like a laundry list of toxins. Though there are a disturbing number of ingredients in polish that give cause for concern, the big three are formaldehyde, which is used as a hardener and preservative in nail polish and has been named by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be a human carcinogen; dibutyl phthalate (DBP), which makes polish last longer and has been linked to birth defects; and toluene, which helps nail paint go on smoothly and can damage the nervous and reproductive systems. Worried yet?

PLUS: Read about the health risks of gel manicures.

The good news is that the beauty industry has taken note of these dangers and answered with several brands, like ZoyaPritiButter London, and Sante, that are making “three-free” formulas that do not contain formaldehyde, DBP, or toluene. Furthermore, Boston has taken steps in the past year to improve the health and safety regulations in nail salons throughout the city. The Safe Nail Salons Project, which debuted in 2011 at the hands of the Boston Public Health Commission, set forth stricter regulations for cleaning and reusing supplies, as well as for ventilating the often-tiny shops to avoid exposure to toxins. The rules also mandated that all chemicals used must be properly labeled and stored.

Despite the advances in health regulations, it might not be a bad idea to cut back on your weekly manicure habit, at least until three-free formulas are the norm instead of the exception.