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A Scary Reason to Buy New Nail Polish

L'Oreal Polish

My nails have never looked so good. It must be all the pregnancy hormones, because for the first time in my life my nails grow fast and the edges don’t rip if I miss a day of filing. (Which I do. A lot.)

My existing nail polish collection was getting a little funky, so I tossed most of the bottles and splurged on some new L’Oreal colors. (No, this is not a sponsored post — it just worked out that way.)

It turns out that my nail polish purge was well timed and necessary. The reason why is relevant to all women who use nail polish, whether you’re pregnant or not. Read on for more details.

But first, the fun stuff. The Shopping Spree: My go-to colors might be a little strange for most people, but they’re perfect for me. I love a very light pink — like Wishful Pinking — for a natural look that (more importantly) doesn’t show chips.

L’Orange is perfect for pedicures because orange toes are, for me, what red lipstick is for most people — classic and timeless.

Greyt Expectations by L'Oreal

I’m obsessed with this shade, Greyt Expectations. It’s the perfect neutral, a magical gray/beige/taupe/purple that goes with everything. I think I might actually use it as an accent color in our guest bedroom. I’m strangely attracted to grayed down, complex colors these days.

Stroke of Midnight is a perfect blackish gray. I wear a lot of dark colors and I think a charcoal nail is a lot more wearable than a bright color.

So that’s what I bought. And here’s why I’m glad I tossed my old polish when I did.

Stroke of Midnight

The Scary Science: According to the folks at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics  (an organization I’d never heard of before I started incubating a tiny human and one that I am now mildly obsessed with) before 2006, most nail polishes contained chemicals they call The Big 3 — dibutyl phthalate (or DBP), toulene and formaldehyde.

DBP makes polish more flexible and chip resistant, but it’s also a suspected teratogen, which means that it may disrupt normal physical development. It’s also been linked to problems in the reproductive system of babies and young boys, as well as low sperm count in men.

Toulene helps the polish go on smooth, but it also affects your central nervous system and causes allergies.

And formaldehyde makes your nails strong, but is a known human carcinogen.


All of these chemicals pose a danger if inhaled and toulene can also be absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. These chemicals are proven dangerous in large doses, but there was — and still is — very little research into what long-term, chronic exposure actually does to humans.

Consumers and lawmakers in Europe and Japan decided they’d heard enough and passed stricter regulations to ban these chemicals in cosmetics. US consumers petitioned cosmetics companies as well and gradually major brands began to quietly remove The Big 3 from their products.

It didn’t happen overnight though — older formulas from the safer brands listed below still had some of the bad stuff lurking inside them until as recently as 2011. And the FDA doesn’t require polish vendors to eliminate The Big 3, so some nail polishes on shelves today still have these chemicals in them.

My Manicure Obsessions

So consider this your permission to clear out those dried up bottles you weren’t using anyway and go on a shopping spree.

Here are some of the safer brands out there. (There are more, but these are lines I come across the most.)

Big 3 Free OPI Wet N’ Wild (really!?) L’Oreal Revlon Sally Hansen China Glaze Essie

A Note: Some products still contain formaldehyde resin, so read labels carefully or check out EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database for details on specific products.

What about you? Do chemicals in your cosmetics or skin care products freak you out or do you take it in stride? What changes in your routine have you made to be more health conscious? How about changes to become more environmentally responsible? Which products or habits have made a difference in your life? What’s your favorite polish color?

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