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How To Choose Safe Nail Polish

There's no denying that the nail industry has been the object of some pretty negative publicity over the years. Whether it's the dreaded salon sanitation issues most of us worry about when going for a mani/pedi, or the highly questionable chemicals used in acrylic nails.

And who can forget the shocking New York Times exposé on the appalling treatment of nail technicians within New York nail salons?

But, perhaps the biggest incident to happen in the nail industry, which forced brands to change their formulas (giving rise to the birth of 3 Free Nail polish) was a 2015 study conducted by Duke University and the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Researchers tested 26 women who had recently painted their nails and found a chemical called Triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) in every participant.

THHP is a suspected endocrine-disruptor found in plastic and flame retardant foam, and if you wear nail polish, possibly in your body too!

Out of more than 3,000 nail polishes tested in the EWG's Skin Deep database, half contained TPHP.

This study changed everything for women who regularly use nail polish. And luckily, it changed a lot for brands too. They have steadily been removing toxic ingredients from their formulas.

The Toxic Trio

This brings us to today's topic. I'm sure you have seen nail polishes labeled as 3 Free, 5 Free, 7 Free, and all the way up to 10 Free. But what does it all mean?

Let's decipher exactly which chemical ingredients have been removed from these toxic-free polishes so you can make better choices when it comes to painting your nails.


Formulated without "The Toxic Trio"

If you're going to paint your nails at all, then make sure your polish is at least 3 Free. This means it does not contain the 3 most toxic nail polish chemicals, which are;


Used as a solvent for dyes, and as a plasticiser that prevents polish from becoming brittle. It is also used in PVC to render it flexible. DBP is classified by the EU a suspected endocrine disruptor. Health Canada associates it with liver and kidney failure in young children when products (or little painted fingernails!) containing phthalates are chewed or sucked for extended periods of time. DBP has been banned from children toys and items that will enter children mouths by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). However, it's use in cosmetics/nail polish is not restricted.


Class as highly toxic on the EWG's Skin Deep database toluene is used in nail polish to achieve a smooth application and finish. Repeated and prolonged exposure to toluene can cause abnormal fetal development in pregnant women, reproductive toxicity, respiratory issues, dermatitis & studies on animals have shown it to be linked to several types of blood cancer.


Scoring an 8-10 on the EWG's Skin Deep database formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen linked to nasal and lung cancer by The International Agency for Research on Cancer. It is used as a nail-hardening agent in nail polish and strengthener.


Formulated without "The Toxic Trio" plus 2 other toxic chemicals


Tosylamide is a very unique resin that modifies the polymers in nail polish to form tough and shiny films (chip-proof, glossy coats). It is a derivative of formaldehyde mainly used in coatings and adhesives. Although it has not been linked to cancer like regular formaldehyde, it is known to cause dermatitis and is listed on The Contact Dermatitis Institute's Allergen Database. It may also contain residual levels of formaldehyde.


Derived from the wood of the camphor tree this is a scented substance that can cause nausea and headaches when inhaled, especially in large doses making it a very concerning chemical for nail technicians. Camphor is used to soften synthetic polymers and like DBP. It is used in nail polish to increase flexibility and durability.


These formulas are free from DBP, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Tosylamide, Camphor and;


TPHP is kind of responsible for the whole toxic-free nail polish movement. It was found to get into women's bodies in the 2015 Duke University study, and seeing as it's used in plastics to improve flexibility and as a flame retardant, that a huge concern. Studies suggest it could be an endocrine disruptor, potentially affecting reproductive health and lipid metabolism. This is where the headline "nail polish makes you fat" comes from!


A solvent used in nail polish to help prevent them from going gloopy xylene is irritating to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. It can cause systemic toxicity by ingestion and inhalation. Xylene exposure also increases oxidative stress.

The number of toxins brands claim to be free from keeps on climbing with 8 -Free, 9-Free and 12-Free products now on offer. However, the majority of the ingredients are often not harmful or are not typically used in nail polishes anymore.

Make sure you read the label and avoid products that have any of the above ingredients in!

My Top Clean beauty picks are;



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Welcome to my little piece of cyberspace! I'm Gabrielle, and I show women how to cut through the marketing BS, understand skincare labels, find non-toxic beauty products —and achieve their skin glow goals!

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