Ever wondered what is in your nail polish? Fear not my friends, it is not all bad news. When you are painting your nails on a regular basis you begin to worry what might actually be lurking in that bottle across from you! But I promise it isn’t as terrifying as it might initially seem.

The Big Three chemicals to watch out for, the real nail polish nasties are dibutyl phthalate or DBP, toluene and formaldehyde.


The chemical dibutyl phthalate is used to make plastics use for malleable plastic products e.g. shower curtains. DBP also could have harmful developmental and reproductive effects, although there has been no conclusive research on humans.

The European Union has banned the chemical from cosmetics and skincare. There is also concerns DBP harms reproductive and developmental growth in unborn children. It’s use is also banned in the production and manufacture of children’s toys.

Pretty damning stuff! The purpose of using DBP in polishes, is like its use in plastics, to give malleability to the polish. This in turn will help prevent cracks and chips, and stop us spoiling our polish result.


Toulene, a chemical considered highly hazardous by the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, and is found in fuels including petrols and explosives, TNT included – scary stuff!

Medical conditions known to be derived from Toulene use include, nervous system disorders, dizziness and headaches and eye irritation.

The chemical also contributes to birth defects, developmental abnormalities and nausea along with liver and kidney damage.

Toulene use in cosmetics been also banned by the European Union, but not by the US, so something to consider when you pick up cosmetics in America.


Formaldehyde, the only chemical from these I recognised, is mainly used as a preservative, a sterilizer, and to embalm bodies. Nice! It’s also used in chip board and plywood because of it’s glue like properties. Formaldehyde is often added to nail strengtheners, something to think about next time you purchase base coat or a growth formula. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, it has been linked to the onset of lung and nasal cancers by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Now after all this talk of medical conditions and cancers, please do now worry! Most brands on the market do not contain these 3 chemicals.

Nearly all readily available nail polishes are at least 3-free, brands such as OPI, Essie, Nars, Wet ‘n’ Wild, Rococco, CND Shellac, Estee Lauder, Sally Hansen, butter London, Calvin Klein, China Glaze (black label), Illamasqua, Maybelline Express Finish, Maybelline Salon Expert and Nicole for OPI.

Many other brands are going 5-free, including Chanel, Deborah Lippmann, Dior, Givenchy, L’oreal, Rimmel, Revlon and Zoya. They have chosen to remove formaldehyde resin and camphor from their ingredients in addition to the Big Three discussed above.

Nails Inc’s NailPure range are a 6-free range and their latest release H2GO polish is 7 free– free from paraben, phthalates including DBP, Camphor, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin and animal derivatives. Butter London’s recent Patent Shine 10x collection went from being the original 3-free nail polish to 7- free.


After reading this you are going to be looking at your collection, however big or small, wondering what to keep and what to chuck and probably wondering what unforeseen damage you may have possibly done to yourself. Do not worry!

If you are unsure about a product you are using and how safe it is, try using the Enviromental Working Group Skin Deep Cosmetic Database which will give you a safety score from 1 – 5 (1 being good to 5 being bad) on a whole range of cosmetic products.

Just type in the product name or chemical you are concerned with and they will give you a safety rating, any chemical components and whether it is animal tested or not etc. If any product happens to not be listed, they will endeavour to research and add your product to the Skin Deep database.

Click here to use the database

Anyway, I hope this post didn’t scare you away from polish! I just thought it was an interesting thought to share with you. I found, especially if perhaps you have had bad experiences in the past with certain brand polishes, it may explain a few things. You may possibly be allergic to an ingredient for instance. Reading up on this topic certainly made me think!

What are your thoughts on Nail Polish Nasties? Would it affect what polish you choose to purchase? Any favourite Non toxic brands?

Let me know in the comments.