When shopping for nail polishes, we often come across the words “formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalates free” printed on the cute little bottles. Commonly used in nail polishes for decades, lately more and more brands are removing them from their products. But why? Are they really bad for you or are the concerns, like it often happens in the world of beauty, exaggerated? Let’s examine them one by one to find out:
Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)
Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) is a plasticizer used to make nail polish smoother, easier to apply and to prevent chipping. Concerns about its safety started when DBP was shown to cause birth defects and miscarriages in animal tests. However, no study has been done on humans and, in any case, the amounts of DBP to which rodents were exposed are much higher than those used in nail polish. This doesn’t mean, though, that DBP is safe to be used. The truth is that we don’t know yet how dangerous (or safe) it is for humans. In the meantime, better be safe than sorry.
Formaldehyde is a preservative very used in a wide variety of beauty products, not just nail ones. In nail polishes, it is used in the form of a resin called Tosylamide/Formaldehyde resin which makes them resilient, harder and tough. Formaldehyde can cause irritations but on the eyes (redness and swelling) not on the nails so it’s hard for a lot of people to realise who the culprit really is. In addition, Formaldehyde is carcinogenic but the small amounts used in cosmetics are generally considered to be safe. Tosylamide/Formaldehyde resin is less irritating than formaldehyde and, in the minuscule amounts used in nail polishes, it shouldn’t cause any problems.
Toluene also called Methyl-Methylbenzene or Toluol, is a solvent that makes nail polishes go on smoother so that application is easier. It also makes it adhere better to the nails. However, Toluene can cause contact dermatitis, eye irritation (redness and swelling), sensitization, reproductive toxicity and it is toxic to inhale. In addition, overexposure to this substance can cause problems to the central nervous system, but this is a concern that affects mainly manicurists that work in a place that isn’t well-ventilated. Everyone else can use it safely. Just don’t inhale it.
The Bottom Line
Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde and Toluene are all very common allergens and irritants. Lately, serious concerns about their safety have been raised but so far, there is no proof that the small amounts used in nail polishes are harmful to humans. When it comes to DBP, I take the better safe than sorry approach, but I still use the other two ingredients every now and then. Lots of brands formulate their nail polishes without them, so if you’re still concerned about them, you can easily avoid them.
Do you avoid Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde and Toluene in your nail polishes or don’t you care about the potential side effects?