Ask the Eco Geek: Is smelly nail polish dangerous?

Photo: Gagne

My wife bought some acrylic to do her nails and my daughter's nails. The scent of it was so strong I had to go to the other room. How harmful are these smells to my small children?

Dear Ethan,
The overwhelming scent is probably coming from a common trio found in most nail products, including acrylic nails and polish. The toxic trio trio is toluene, formaldehyde and DBP.

According to Glossed Over, a report done by Women and the Environment, most of the products being used by nail salons contain these products. Toluene, DBP, ethyl acetate and formaldehyde—all can cause headaches, dizziness, and irritation to the eyes, throat, skin and respiratory track. They've also been linked to cancer and are known hormone disruptors – meaning they can cause problems with human reproduction and development. All three have been banned in Europe.

  • Toulene: This clear, colourless liquid found in most nail polish as well as in paints, thinners and inks is what gives polish that nice smooth finish and helps everything to dry quicker. It's often listed as benzene, methyl-methylbenzene, or toluol and when combined with formaldehyde toluene sulfonamide/formaldehyde resin. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has been successfully in encouraging most manufacturers to reduce this chemical.
  • Formaldehyde: acts as a nail hardener and helps stop polish from chipping. But as any high school biology can tell you it can give you it can give you headaches, fatigue, skin rashes, dizziness while irritating eyes, nose and throat and can cause rashes and other skin irritations.
  • DBP: also known as this is probably the most toxic of the trio and it's the one we know the least about. It acts as a binder to improve the lasting power of our polish. But it's also been linked to cancer in lab animals, and underdeveloped genitals and other long-term fertility problems in newborn boys. It's the same chemical used in adhesives or printing inks.
  • So while researchers try to narrow down just how toxic these chemicals are many greenies are suggesting you go chemical free, especially for little girls whose organs are still developing and may be more sensitive to the side affects.

    There's no such thing as a completely green nail polish but there are some that are safer than others. Look for brands that advertise as being free of these chemicals. You can find a list of some brands missing the toxic trio in our article Three dangerous chemicals to avoid in your nail polish.

    If your wife is really devoted to her product, then open a window for some fresh air. Nobody needs to breathe the fumes.

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