The other day I plopped down on my yoga mat to do pilates, took one look at my toes, and felt a sharp twinge of horror. The level of frumpiness I’ve allowed to go on down there is just unacceptable. And I went to my first mommy meetup/playgroup like that. In sandals! Damnit. And I’m expecting to make friends?!
[It’s summer, Dana. Pull yourself together. Or don’t, whatever. But if you’re going to wear sandals outside of the house, or go to the beach, you might want to think about cleaning up your life first.]
Needless to say, I haven’t had a pedi in a dog’s age. I’ve been conflicted about it to be honest. Every time I walk into a nail salon, I’m punched in the face by the smell of chemicals. I can just feel the toxins swirling around me. And for what? So my toenails can be coral colored for summer? What is wrong with me? There has to be a better way.
Turns out, there is. It’s called an at-home, DIY, non toxic nail polish pedicure. [So calm down, Dana.]
Here’s why I’m avoiding conventional nail polish and pedicures this summer:
The Toxic Ingredients in Conventional Nail Polish
Like so many other products on the conventional U.S. beauty market, nail polish is not so beautiful. In fact, it’s chock full of bullshit. Potentially harmful bullshit. Bullshit like:
With a catchy name like Dibutyl phthalate, you wonder why they felt the need to abbreviate it. This little member of phthalate family of chemicals is used to minimize chipping. It’s classified as an endocrine disruptor, mimicking estrogen in the body. Which is not good.
DBP, and phthalates in general, have been proven to impair hormonal development in male fetuses (What? Yes.), cause organ damage and potentially instigate early-onset menopause. It’s also been shown to decrease fertility and cause liver damage in rats.
The E.U. has banned it. Australia classifies it as a risk to the human reproductive system. And California classifies it as a reproductive and hormonal toxicant. The federal government here in the U.S. seems to think it’s totes fine though because, obviously.
You can thank Toluene for that smooth manicure finish and that sweet, pungent smell. And it’s an ingredient in most nail polish removers too.
Fun fact: it’s commonly found in fun things like varnish, glue and gasoline! It’s a petrochemical and neurotoxicant. It’s been linked to neurological damage and decreased brain function (I honestly don’t need any more of that in my life right now. #mombrain).
And on top of that, it irritates the skin, eyes and lungs, can cause hearing impairment and nausea, and it’s also linked to birth defects! And, my god, the poor rats. Toluene has also been linked to reproductive issues, cancer and immune system impairment in animal studies.
The E.U. and Cali are on top of this one too. The federal gov, though? Snoozing hard.
Yes, like the preservative used to embalm things. They use it in nail polish to strengthen it and protect against bacterial growth.
At extremely low levels, like the levels found in some vaccines and those produced by the human body, it’s not dangerous. But, in larger doses inhaled or absorbed through the skin, it can potentially cause cancer. In fact, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies it as a human carcinogen. Like, legit research suggests an association between exposure to ‘the hyde and certain types of cancer.
It’s also a very real concern for nail salon workers, pregnant women and especially pregnant nail salon workers. It puts them at risk for chronic health issues like asthma. And it can cause convulsions, nausea and even miscarriage and impaired fetal development.
Once again, the E.U. has strict limits on its use in personal care products. And Japan, Sweden and Canada have all banned it. Do we even have to ask about the U.S. gov at this point?
Didn’t think so.
Formaldehyde resin is a byproduct of formaldehyde. While we definitely know it’s a (potentially quite severe) skin irritant, immune system toxicant and can cause skin depigmentation and loss of nerve sensation, there’s not as much conclusive research on this one.
It seems safe to assume though that if we’re avoiding formaldehyde, we should probably go ahead and avoid its byproducts as well. It’s not technically classified as a carcinogen but, you’re going to find it in most nail polishes that contain formaldehyde itself anyway.
Oh and of course the F.D.A. is cool with it.
The glossy, shiny finish of nail polish can be attributed to this little guy. It’s not as toxic as the big ones above but, its safety has def been called into question. Especially the safety of long term exposure.
It’s a known skin irritant, and pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised against using it. As are children. It can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea and potentially liver damage. Bleh.
11+ Non Toxic Nail Polish Brands
The good news is that we can avoid all of this garbage if we want to. Look here.
The Big 3-Free
What we want to do when we’re choosing nail polish is to, at the very least, make sure we’re avoiding the first three ingredients above, also known as “The Big 3”: DBP, Toluene and Formaldehyde.
Doing so isn’t all that difficult. If you see a polish labeled “3-free”, it means it excludes those ingredients. And there are a bunch of brands to choose from.
Polishes labeled “5-free” exclude The Big 3, plus formaldehyde resin and camphor, which is great. 5-free brands are pretty common at this point too. Ella + Mila is one example that comes to mind.
6-Free, 7-Free, 8-Free, 9-Free +
Ya. You can really go wild these days! There’s basically no reason at all to choose a crappy, dangerous nail polish, friend.
- RMS is 6-free
- Cote’s got some 7-free
- Tenoverten and BASE COAT are 8-free
- Acquarella and Londontown are killing it at 9-free
- And Kester Black and Zoya are… wait for it… coming in hot at a whopping 10-free!
Many of these are also responsibly made, cruelty-free, gluten-free and vegan too. Boop.
Non Toxic Beauty is Now Big Business
You know what’s great about the world these days? The silver lining of the abject failure cloud of our federal government and beauty industry? Capitalism.
Safer, non toxic, natural beauty is big, booming business these days. We consumers are educated and fed up and companies are scrambling to match our demand.
And with so many brands now producing, safer, affordable, well-performing alternatives, it’s a wonder any of us would be loyal to brands who don’t give a feck about our safety.
I’ve ordered a couple of the brands above and can’t wait to slap ‘em on my toes before heading to the beach on Saturday. Or to my next mom group.
Now, if I could just teach Baby Foster the motor and cognitive skills to give mom a proper pedicure, then I’d really be all set.
What about you? Do you have a particular safe nail polish you love? Have you ever wondered why nail salons smell like that? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!