Article by: Perry Romanowski

I read a few articles about what people called the “toxic trio” in nail polish and it really bugged me a bit.

Toxic Nail Polish

The basic premis of these articles is that most nail polishes contain toxic ingredients that make them dangerous and that consumers should choose polishes that do not contain these ingredients.  In one, the author goes through and points out some studies that supposedly supports her point.  They don’t.  For example.

“DBP can irritate your stomach, eyes, and upper respiratory system.”  – It’s not surprising that a volatile compound can be irritating but this is true of many compounds and doesn’t make nail polish toxic.

“phthalates found in mothers can be particularly harmful, causing reproductive damage to sons.” – I don’t know what this has to do with nail polish.  Are women drinking nail polish?  Where is the research showing phthalates from nail polish are getting through the nail and into the body?

Then the author talks about Toluene and says in low doses it is safe.  So why talk about high doses?  ugh.

Then propagates common fears about formaldehyde despite the fact that the levels used in nail polish are not harmful.

Uncertain Alternatives

But what really bugs me is the advice to try a brand that doesn’t have the “toxic trio”.  The problem is that the author is quick to conclude that nail polish containing the toxic trio are unsafe but doesn’t even investigate the chemicals in the products that she recommends.

The nail polish brand that she recommends is not more safe than other nail polishes.

All one has to do is look at the safety profiles of the alternative chemicals in the recommended brand.  As alternatives to Toluene this manufacturer uses Butyl Acetate. According to the MSDS for Butyl Acetate “The substance is irritating to the eyes and the respiratory tract. The substance may cause effects on the central nervous system. Exposure far above the OEL could cause lowering of consciousness.”

And the carcinogen potential of Butyl Acetate has also been investigated and they concluded that “TBAc (butyl acetate) should be considered to pose a potential cancer risk to humans because of the metabolic conversion to TBA.”

This is somehow safer?

There is little evidence that the “toxic trio” or “toxic trio-free” nail polishes are unsafe. They are safe. It just bugs me to see myths like these propagated.


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    I’m a new reader to your site and, as a trying-to-be-informed consumer, appreciate it very much. Now that you’ve referenced butyl acetate, is this an ingredient that you would consider safe in nail polishes? As a non-chemist, I sometimes find it confusing to read the MSDS sheets and extrapolate the research into real-life consumer usage. Thanks.

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    I think the “toxic trio” are singled out largely out of tradition, since the nail industry has focused on those three, even if they’re not necessarily deserving (toluene strikes me as particularly innocent). In my opinion, they’re not a real hazard to the ordinary casual nail polish consumer, but for, say, a pregnant salon worker in a crappily ventilated workplace it could be a concern.

    In my experience, it’s difficult to find a polish which still contains the “big 3”, since it seems to be the industry standard to exclude them now. And it’s nigh on impossible to find a polish without butyl acetate – even the 3-ful formulas usually contain butyl acetate as one of the top 3 ingredients.

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    I think the owner of the blog agrees with you, as the article you are referring to has been removed! 😉

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      Well, there you go. lol.

      Since this “toxic trio” nonsense was found lots of places on the web I’ll just leave this post up anyway.

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