9 Apr 2009

Ask Me Beauty: Are nail polishes bad for my health?

I recently watched your nail polish haul and your comments on "Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat" led me to purchase this top coat. Generally, I am very happy with the product, as it really speeds things up. However, I got a bit skeptical when I read the warning on the bottle saying that the "product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm". I was wondering whether you knew more about the ominous warning.


Dear Claudia,

This warning is most likely because of the ingredient Toluene (also known as methylbenzene, toluol, phenylmethane) contained in Seche Vite, which is a solvent that makes the polish easier to apply. Toluene is an aromatic hydrocarbon commonly used as an industrial solvent for the manufacturing of paints, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and rubber. Like other solvents, toluene is also used by some drug abusers as an inhalant drug for its intoxicating properties. Inhalation of toluene fumes can be intoxicating, and in larger doses nausea-inducing.

Toluene is one of the substances that some nail polish manufacturers are starting to omit from their products, also known as the "Big Three". These are three toxic chemicals that are often used in nail products, namely Dibutyl Phtalate (DBP), Formaldehyde and Toluene. It is debatable whether or not these three chemicals pose a serious risk to consumers who use nail polish on a regular basis. Some people might be more concerned about these chemical ingredients than others, especially pregnant women who may wish to take extra-ordinary precautions. Personally, I do not feel that these ingredients pose a serious risk to my own well-being, so I will continue to use them on myself. This is something everyone must decide for themselves, however, beauty products must label their products very carefully with any warning labels to prevent misuse or liability, etc. You have to consider that while these ingredients are certainly toxic in larger quantities or if inhaled purposefully, you are only exposed to a minute amount in your nail products and unlikely to be sniffing and inhaling the polish vehemently.

What I suggest is that you check out this post on ALU that explains "Big Three Free" polishes in more detail with lots of useful links, and this other page on ALU for an updated list on which companies offer Big 3 Free and other chemically reduced nail polishes. Michelle from alllacqueredup.com has obviously done a lot of research on this topic and I would only do her a disservice by trying to regurgitate the same information on my blog.

Hope that helped and happy and healthy nail lacquering!


If you have a beauty related question and need advice, please email your question to askmebeauty@gmail.com The best questions will be published on my blog, your anonymity is guaranteed.


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  3. Anonymous6:57 am

    Great article! Very informative.

  4. Dear Julia, thank you very much for your informative answer to my question! I am especially thankful that you answered it so soon after receiving my e-mail - merci!! Wishing you a great Easter Monday, Claudia

  5. Good information.

    I came across many queries in several forums where people have been asking for advice on the best glue that can be used on nails and that is not only strong but also safe on nails. This was the same question I had sometime back when I used to apply nail gel myself. Initially the glue I got would never hold on the way it used to when done in the salon. I then came across the nail glue being sold on gel-nails which lasts very long and is pretty easy to apply. It provides a strong bonding for my nails and also does a great job in repairing the nail tips.

    Most important of all is that this is strong glue I was actually looking out for and this is used by nail salons and nail artists for professional applications. It is available at a cheap price at gel-nails and I remember seeing it at a discount of 74% which is great. Maybe this can help if you also face problems relating to poor glue quality as I did earlier.