Manicure Menace: Unlabeled Toxins Taint Popular Nail Polish

Nail Salon

A new report released by the Department of Toxic Substances Control found an alarming number of California salon brand nail polishes commonly marketed as free of several known toxins actually contained high levels of the harmful chemicals.

The DTSC said that the mislabeled products put thousands of workers and customers at risk in the nearly 50,000 nail salons in California. When inhaled, the chemicals can lead to a number of health conditions including developmental and reproductive problems, asthma and cancer.

California investigators purchased 25 different brands of polish that are only available at nail salons, some of which claimed not to contain chemicals often referred to as the “toxic trio”: toluene, DBP (dibutyl phthalate) and formaldehyde. Brands include Sation, Dare to Wear, Cacie and Golden Girl. But despite the toxin-free claims, the investigators found that 10 out of 12 products marketed as safe actually contained the chemical toluene. When inhaled, it can negatively impact the nervous system and in high doses, can even lead to death. Four of the products also contained very high levels of the substance. Five out of seven products that were promoted as “toxic three free” contained at least one of the harmful chemicals.

DBP has already been banned in all nail products sold or used in the European Union, and tight restrictions exist on toluene and formaldehyde. California’s attorney general will review the data to determine whether or not to take legal action. One option is to determine if the findings are compliant with Prop 65, the state law requiring all harmful chemicals be clearly labeled by the manufacturer.

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Image: Yellow Sky Photography

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.