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Poison! Nail Polish?

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Author: Hanni Yang

Editors: Ken Saito and Aanya Ram

Artist: Jenny Luo

When you step into the nail salon, you sense the toxic smell of nail polish burning your nostrils. Although nail technicians will encourage you to buy a pretty, expensive set of nails, have you ever looked at nail polish ingredients? Why do people say it’s poison? How does this impact people’s health? The majority of people love doing their nails. It's pretty and makes them feel confident. However, the chemicals inside the nail polish can be dangerous, even putting them at risk of death. The chemicals in nail polish can harm people in numerous ways.

In nail polish, five toxic chemicals can harm people’s health: formaldehyde, camphor, formaldehyde resin, dibutyl phthalate, and toluene — commonly known as the “Big Five” chemicals. According to the National Cancer Institute, formaldehyde is a preservative recognized as a potentially cancer-causing substance. It is also among the most common substances that cause allergic contact dermatitis. Also, dibutyl phthalate is used to reduce chipping in the nail polish and mimics estrogen, which can impair the development of male fetuses. When women are pregnant, they should not use products that contain any toxic chemicals considering they will harm their babies. Toluene has a pungent smell, which can be found in both nail polish and removers. It negatively affects health and has been linked to cancers as well. Furthermore, formaldehyde resin, dibutyl phthalate, and toluene can also cause allergic contact dermatitis.

After two weeks of your expensive set of nails, it is time to remove it and do another new set. However, polish removers are also poisonous. Polish removers may cause blister formation, irritant and allergic contact dermatitis, onycholysis, paronychia, and brittleness. Not only but also nail polish removers can make nails more tough. Nail polish remover can break down the fingernails' top layer and eventually lead to a rough surface. In addition to polish remover, caustic acetone remover will strip the last layer of gel polish; however, this can weaken nails over time. Acetone dries out keratin — the rigid protein that nails are made of — and it tends to peel, become brittle, and ultimately break.

Besides nail polish, getting manicures is harmful in numerous ways to your nails. Even though nail technicians will sanitize tools between clients, fungi infections are tenacious. They might hide out on technicians’ hands, inside polish brushes, or even on stations themselves. Other than sanitary problems, nail technicians can damage nail beds by trimming the cuticles. They can damage living skin, causing a wavy, uneven nail bed if they go too far. Despite that, nail polish has a very distinct smell. It’s an overpowering chemical smell that tends to linger long after the nail polish has been closed. While not as dangerous as the chemicals, nail polish fumes are still toxic.

With the improvement of technologies, the market launched the so-called "non-toxic" nail polish. They have grown tremendously in marketing and are becoming more and more popular. Nonetheless, it’s still a wiser choice not to put these toxic chemicals on your nails. Natural beauty is the best beauty.



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as%20the%20nail%20care%20expert. Accessed 29 Mar. 2023.

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Accessed 19 Apr. 2023.

Kane, Louise. “16 Reasons You May Want to Stop Getting Manicures.” Healthyway, 30 Jan.


Accessed 19 Apr. 2023.

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