Dangerous Liaisons: How Nail Polish Can Be Harmful to Your Health


If you were offered to participate in a study that only requires you to paint your nails, would you agree? 26 representatives of the fair sex did it. And got amazing results!

How it all began

In 2015, experts from Duke University and Environmental Working group invited girls and women to test 10 samples of nail polishes. The aim of the study was to understand how a chemical called triphenyl phosphate (or TPHP) affects a woman’s body.

In industry, it is used in the manufacture of plastics and as a flame retardant for furniture.

According to scientists, it can enter the human body simply through the nails, causing hormonal imbalance and causing weight gain, up to obesity. In animal studies, this substance has led to developmental pathologies and disorders of the reproductive system.

On a note!

Triphenyl phosphate (or TPHP) is listed on the label of almost half of all products designed for nails. Such data were presented by scientists after testing more than 3,000 nail polishes. But what’s worse, some varnishes contain it without any mention on the label.

What scientists have found

What scientists have found

After testing 10 nail polishes that were purchased directly for the experiment, scientists found a dangerous substance in 8 of them. At the same time, two of the eight varnishes did not mention on the label that the sample contained triphenyl phosphate.

Manufacturers use this substance to make nail polishes more malleable, flexible, and durable. Therefore, its concentration in the product ranges from 0.49% to 1.68% of the mass of products. At the same time, light transparent varnishes contain more triphenyl phosphate than bright and saturated ones.

The study found that when girls and women applied TPHP nail polish, their urine levels skyrocketed 7-fold, peaking at 20 hours!

How TPHP appeared in varnishes

Manufacturers’ interest in TPHP arose after the disclosure of the results of a 2015 study, according to which phthalates contained in nail polishes (primarily dibutyl phthalate, DBP) are likely to be responsible for endocrine disruption and toxic to the human reproductive system.

Amid the general confusion, manufacturers have released lines of varnishes marked 3-free and 5-free, which imply the absence of DBP in the composition. But has the product become safer as a result?

Expert comment

Nneka Leiba, researcher

Manufacturers of 3-free and 5-free nail polishes claim to be phthalate-free. However, most of them have simply replaced DBP with TPHP. And this is a regrettable replacement.

The problem is that both substances have the same destructive effect on the human body.

People should pay more attention to the choice of products and at the same time not blindly trust the labels. Ingredients of concern should definitely be tested for toxicity levels on their respective resources.

To stay healthy, you should also think about how to reduce the overall amount of harmful substances that you expose yourself to daily. And also choose products that are safe for the body.

What ingredients are dangerous

What ingredients are dangerous

Today on sale you can find not only varnishes 3-free and 5-free, but also products of a higher rank. For example, in the United States on free sale, including on Internet sites, you can find nail products marked 7-free and even 10-free.

In most cases, these are ethical products based on natural ingredients.

What chemicals in nail products are not welcomed by scientists and doctors?


Long-term use of drugs with phthalates threatens with hormonal imbalances, problems in the functioning of the thyroid gland, and an increase in the likelihood of developing diabetes. It is important to know that liquid toluene is much more dangerous than its vapors.


It is a known solvent. It is associated with a long list of disorders that can provoke in the body, starting with irritation of the mucous membranes of the eyes, ending with damage to the kidneys and nervous system.


Has carcinogenic properties. It is included in nail polishes in concentrations up to 0.5%, which is quite a lot.

Phenol-formaldehyde resin

Phenol-formaldehyde resin

A substance of synthetic origin, which is used as a hardener. In high dosage, it can cause skin irritation or become a source of allergies.


May irritate skin, eyes and respiratory tract. Considered a carcinogen.


This substance can cause seizures, and in addition, cause disorientation in space.

Ethyl nialamide

While the experts Environmental Working Group consider this substance relatively safe for health, ethical manufacturers believe that it can contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance.


Its accumulation in the body is fraught with damage to all organs and systems, including disorders in the brain.

Hydroquinone monomethyl ether

May cause irritation of the skin and mucous membranes of the eyes.

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT)

Both substances are preservatives. They can cause lung damage and provoke allergic reactions.

What to do with all this?

What to do with all this?

Researcher Cancer prevention Institute of California — Thu Kwach says that while consumers have less to worry about using nail products infrequently, from time to time, the greatest health risks are borne by the nail art industry. It is they who must seriously approach the issue of the quality of the products used, as well as create conditions in manicure rooms that will meet all safety requirements.

Useful advice is also provided by the co-founder of the campaign for safe cosmetics — Janet Nudelman: “You need to paint your nails so that the varnish does not get on the cuticle. No one is saying that accidentally applying nail polish to your skin will cause serious long-term health consequences, but this is a risk that can be avoided.”

Nail polish has been used by mankind for many years, and our task is to make its use safer. Take care of yourself and be healthy!

Effects of TDCPP or TPP on gene transcriptions and hormones of HPG axis, and their consequences on reproduction in adult zebrafish (Danio rerio) / Liu X., Ji K., Jo A., et al // Aquat Toxicol. 2013 Jun 15

In vitro assessment of human nuclear homone receptor activity and cytotoxicity of the flame retardant mixture FM 550 and its triarylphosphate and brominated components / Belcher SM, Cookman CJ, Patisaul HB, et al // Toxicol Lett. 2014

Organophosphorus flame retardants (PFRs) in human breast milk from several Asian countries / Kim JW, Isobe T., Muto M., et al // Chemosphere 2014

Urinary metabolites of organophosphate flame retardants and their variability in pregnant women / Hoffman K., Daniels JL, Stapleton HM // Environ Int. 2014

Structural characteristics and permeability properties of the human nail: A review / Gupchup GV, Zatz JL // Journal of cosmetic science 50 1999


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