Could This Beauty Product Be Harming Your Health?

The one item you should be more conscious of.

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

By now, we know being more conscious of the ingredients and potential toxicity of products is important. From water to cell phone usage to deodorant, you’re probably already considering your daily interactions with beauty products, electronics, and foods.

But there’s one product that’s often overlooked, but is vital when it comes to your wellbeing: nail polish.

Yep, that swipe of color that always seems to be either on your toes, fingernails, or both is potentially harming you. Here’s why.

Your Body

“Just like your skin, your nail plate is a porous entry point into the bloodstream and nervous system,” says Mary Lennon, co-founder of toxin-free nail line Côte.

The nail bed is actually mainly made of keratin, a protein, and is very porous—no matter what that tough, hard exterior might suggest. So, it seriously does matter what you paint on your nails. No, really: So much so that one recent study found that chemicals in nail polish are absorbed into your bloodstream “relatively quickly” after an application of polish. (Yikes!)

The Ingredients

You probably have an interest or desire to use cleaner, less toxic nail polish, but it’s all rather confusing, right? Between TPHP, DBT, DBHP—where does one even begin, and what are the most important chemicals to do without?

The nail industry is mainly focused on the “big five” as the leading gross ingredients to remove from your polish: formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, camphor, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). But there are plenty more to be wary of when nail polish shopping or selecting polish at your local nail salon.

Lennon suggests trying to do without the following ingredients:

Formaldehyde: Classified as a known carcinogen, formaldehyde is often used as a preservative, nail hardener, and strengthener in conventional polishes.

Toluene: Included in some polishes as a solvent to smooth application, it has been linked to impaired human reproduction and development, impaired breathing, being harmful to the nervous system, and nausea.

Dibutyl Phthalate (DBT): Shown to affect the reproductive system and linked to cancer, DBP has been used as a plasticizer and solvent to increase wear.

Formaldehyde Resin: A derivative of formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin is often used as a hardener. In large doses, it can be a skin allergen.

Camphor: Added to some polishes for high shine, camphor can cause allergic reactions in large doses, as well as irritation, dizziness, nausea, and headaches.

Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP): Research suggests it causes changes in hormone regulation, metabolism, and reproductive systems. It has been used in polish as a plasticizer, which makes the polish flexible, yet durable.

Xylene: Used by some brands to help polish from getting gloppy, xylene is also a known allergen, and a possible carcinogen.

Ethyl Tosylamide/Epoxy Resin: This ingredient has antibiotic properties, which raises concern over antibiotic resistance. It can also be used as a plasticizer to help polishes dry faster.

Parabens: Used as preservatives, parabens have estrogen-mimicking effects, which may trigger hormonal problems.

Gluten: Hydrolyzed wheat protein, while considered non-toxic by some, does pose potentially serious issues for those who are gluten intolerant. Used to help moisturize soft, brittle nails, it presents a major allergy concern.

Safer Brands


Already one of the non-toxic leaders, the brand has just announced that they’ll be going from 10-free to 11-free, starting with their summer launch, out in May. This makes it the highest toxin-free, large scale nail polish launch yet. But you won’t even notice those nasty chemicals are gone: The polish still lasts (mine usually even longer than traditional kinds, actually) and applies smoothly and easily. Oh, and they have over 100 different shades now. They also have nail salons with their polish exclusively in LA and NY.


The cool-girl NY, LA, and Austin nail salons have a cult following for good reason: Their salons are healthy beyond just polish options—every product from the polish to remover to nail drying drops (they just released their own version, too!) is chosen for its ethicalness. Their own line of polishes are eight-free, vegan, gluten and cruelty-free, and just straight up flawless and brilliantly colored.


The 10-free polish line is also vegan and cruelty-free, and just so happens to also have some of the chicest designed nail salons in NY (specifically in NoMad and at Saks Fifth Avenue Downtown). And the polishes are next level, thanks to the shades being so gorgeous and truly unique.

Want to be more nail conscious from here on out? We hear you… us too. Try giving yourself a mani at home with cleaner polish options. Prefer to leave it to the pros? Bring along your own polish to your next nail salon appointment so that you know exactly what’s on your nails from here on out.

Keep on nailing it:

Tough as Nails: Best Strengthening Treatments to Try Now Tips on Calming Colors Schemes From a Workout Guru How to DIY a Manicure That Will Actually Last

Learn to love your inbox again—sign up for Domino’s daily email.  

Kristin Limoges


Kristin can usually be found face, hair, and body masking simultaneously, while thinking-up clever DIYs for her small-space Chinatown apartment. She’s always on the search for the greatest and most life-changing beauty and wellness hacks (hello nootropics and adaptogens) and is happy to report she loves dogs and cats equally.