Ok so there has been a lot of talk about toxic chemicals in nail polish. Established brands have changed their formulas to be free of these chemicals which raises a lot of questions. What are they? What do they do? Why are they so bad? Are polishes just as good without them? Who makes polishes free of the Big 3? I’m going to try and answer those questions here.
What do they do?
Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) is a plasticiser to prevent chips and cracks. DBP is an oily liquid that is soluble in fat and slightly soluble in water. It is not very volatile so it does not evaporate readily into the atmosphere.
Over 75% of DBP is used as a plasticiser in polymers such as PVC, 14% is used in adhesives, 7% in printing inks and 3% in other miscellaneous uses, including sealants and grouting agents used in construction as well as consumer products such as cosmetics.
Formaldehyde does not exist in nail polish. It is used in some nail hardeners but not in the actual polish. A resin, tosylamide/formaldehyde resin, makes the polish tough and resilient. While the resin is manufactured from formaldehyde, once the product becomes a resin, the formaldehyde is chemically changed and essentially no longer present. So while formaldehyde is grouped in with toluene and DBP in marketing statements and considered one of the Big 3, it isn’t actually an issue unless you have a reaction to the formaldehyde resin.
The bottom line, you should be aware of formaldehyde in your treatment products, not polish.
Toluene (methylbenzene, toluol, phenylmethane) is a solvent that makes the polish easy to apply. It is an aromatic hydrocarbon commonly used as an industrial solvent for the manufacturing of paints, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and rubber.
Toluene is found in gasoline, acrylic paints, varnishes, lacquers, paint thinners, adhesives, glues, rubber cement, airplane glue, and shoe polish. At room temperature, toluene is a colorless, sweet smelling, volatile liquid.
Why are they bad?
I’m not convinced that they are bad. I really think this is something each person should decide for themselves. There are risks and effects caused by exposure to each of these chemicals. But, whether or not limited exposure to polish will actually result in those effects is yet to be determined. I don’t feel it is my place to make that call so I choose to present you with the info I’ve found so you can make up your own mind.
US FDA Office of Cosmetics and Color’s report on Using Nail Products
Professional Beauty Association’s Facts About Salon Nail Polish Products for Consumers
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
Environmental Working Group’s report The Dangers Of Phthalates Industry Spin vs. Fact
California Proposition 65
Are Polishes Just As Good Without Them?
The not so fun answer is, it depends. While some brands have been Big 3 free for years and have top notch formulas, some of the brands jumping on the band wagon don’t have it quite right yet. The best thing I can tell you is to experiment. I’ve noticed that with OPI’s newest collection, Night Brights, it’s hit or miss.
Who makes polishes free of the Big 3?
Avon, Butter London, Dashing Diva “Extra Virgin”, HoneyBee Gardens, Lippmann Collection (newer collections), NailTini, NARS (new formula), Nocti, Nubar, OPI (Australia collection & newer), Revlon, Sally Hansen, Vinyl Deborah Lippmann, Zoya
UPDATE: Please check out this post for a more current list of Big 3 Free polish brands – Celebrate Earth Day – Check Your Ingredients
Are there brands I left out? Please email me or post a comment, I want to keep this listing as accurate as possible. Thank you!