Is Your Mani/Pedi Toxic?

Are you bothered by the sickening smell in the nail salon when you go for a relaxing manicure? Have you ever wondered why the manicurists wear facemasks? Those potent fumes are from chemicals in the nail polish and remover and are not good for us. According to a NY Times report on toxic nail products, “The prevalence of respiratory and skin ailments among nail salon workers is widely acknowledged. More uncertain, however, is their risk for direr medical issues.”

Nail products contain three chemicals of concern:

  • Toulene, (produces the smooth finish) is a chemical known to cause reproductive harm and dizziness. Also found in gasoline, the CDC warns that it can cause central nervous system problems.
  • Formaldehyde (hardener) is a known carcinogen found in many nail polishes and used for preserving dead animals. It has strict warnings to avoid inhalation or skin contact.
  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)(flexibility and moisturizing sheen) is banned in Europe and known to cause reproductive problems, especially in boys. The Environmental Working Group classifies this chemical as the highest danger level and warns that it can cause organ problems and endocrine disruption.

Research is limited in this largely unregulated industry, especially with salon workers, but a number of studies have found that cosmetologists have elevated rates of death from Hodgkin’s disease, of low birth-weight babies and of multiple myeloma, a type of cancer. Research is showing a link between the chemicals in nail products and serious health issues.

Succumbing to pressure from environmental groups and European lawmakers, several cosmetics makers are removing one of the chemicals in nail polish that is possibly linked to interference with the endocrine system. It has always shocked me why companies sell nail polish without these harmful chemicals in their European market and the same polish with chemicals in the American market! European laws are obviously stricter.

With sandal season coming, it’s nice to have polished nails, so what can you do? As with processed food or cleaning and personal care products, always read the labels – the fewer the ingredients the better, and beware of names that are hard to pronounce – and use a low toxicity or non-toxic polish, which are now more available. If you want to check the toxicity level of your nail products, visit or download the app Think Dirty, which rates the safety of specific products and provides cleaner solutions.



Information compiled from Sarah Maslin Nir, May 8, 2015 New York Times and

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8 responses to this post.

  1. I so agree with you. I don’t go barefoot or wear sandals anymore but I figure if my feet are clean, that’s as good as it’s going to get. I know how bad those chemicals are for you. Used to be a cosmetologist and stopped because of the chemicals.


    • Good for you! I don’t use nail polish either, though occasionally I will in the summer on my toes – always a non-toxic product however! Thanks for commenting…..


  2. Posted by Nancy Yardley on March 2, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    It is also more from gel nails and other acrylic nails. My girl only does natural nails and there is no oder

    Sent from my iPhone



    • Glad to hear there is no odor, which indicates that chemicals are in the products. Not good for us or our nails! Thanks for commenting….


  3. Posted by judyfallon on March 4, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    Great post Betsy!



  4. I can’t go into salons that are devoted solely to manis/pedis. What must it do to the folks who work there? I rarely do it anyway, but if I give myself a pedi, I always go outside to at least diffuse some of it. If you can smell it, it’s not good!


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