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Think Nail Polish Is Safe For Kids? Or Anyone? Think Again.


By Vicki Little

When your brain obsesses over lead, household cleaners, and other chemicals that may be potentially dangerous to you or your child, nail polish might not even make the list. It’s hard to imagine that those mommy and daughter manicures could be exposing us to a range of chemicals. But even if you are carefully picking out polishes that claim to be “eco-friendly” or “3-free, ” you may just be choosing one chemical over another. There could still be poison in your polish.

Many companies did eliminate the controversial toxic chemicals formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate from polishes, but some companies simply replaced them with an equally questionable chemical called triphenyl phosphate — or TPHP. A study by Duke University and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found disturbing levels of TPHP, which is the same chemical used as a fire retardant in foam furniture, in more than two dozen women who used nail polish. According to the EPA,  TPHP can cause developmental malformations, reproductive problems, and increased cancer risk.

Though the study only had 26 participants, the results were universal. Two to four hours after applying a polish that contained very minimal amounts of TPHP, 24 of the participants had slightly elevated levels of diphenyl phosphate, which indicates that TPHP is being processed by the body. Ten to 14 hours after painting their nails, ALL of the participant’s levels of diphenyl phosphate had increased sevenfold. Participants who used gloves to apply the polish on synthetic nails (avoiding contact with skin or their actual nails) did not have any increase in their diphenyl phosphate levels, indicating that the chemical is being absorbed by the body rather than being inhaled or ingested.

According to an article by EWG, the FDA admitted that it cannot require testing of cosmetic products before they are marketed, and even if they do believe a product is harmful, they must prove it in court and cannot require a recall. Many of the 1, 500 polishes that contain TPHP did not include this information on the label, so it is difficult for consumers to avoid products with it. However, you can find a list of companies that use the chemical in their products on EWG’s site Skin Deep®.

Since learning of the potential dangers, EWG launched a petition to stop nail polish brands from using TPHP. Sign the petition here to voice your opinion.


Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, camping, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.


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