Meadville Tribune

Our Health

July 17, 2013

Manis and pedis may be harmful to your health

Your next manicure or pedicure could actually do you more harm than good. Fingernail polish and its obvious cousin, nail polish remover, contain a plethora of toxic chemicals that are known to cause or associated with cancer, reproductive disabilities, asthma and other harmful health consequences.

The focus these days is on nail polish. Most commercial nail polishes contain what has been coined the “toxic trio,” which are more commonly known by chemists as dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde and toluene.

DBP is an agent that adds the shine to your nail polish and basically makes your fingernails or toenails sparkle. But, DBP is a toxin that has been linked to reproductive disorders in males.

A 2005 study found that males exposed to DBP while in their mother’s womb can adversely affect the male reproductive organs. Basically, the study found that DBP exposure impairs testicular function.

A more recent study conducted in 2010 connected DBP exposure to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and low intelligence of school-age children. Furthermore, a study published in January’s issue of PLoS One, a biology-focused academic journal, discovered a strong connection between DBP and the inheritance of obesity.

We’re only one-third done defining the dangers of the toxic trio. Moving onto formaldehyde, this carcinogen has been linked to cancer, particularly when inhaled. In fact, recent studies have found that formaldehyde exposure may be a causal factor for nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia.

Because of this most recent research, the EPA has posted new rules for formaldehyde emissions, reducing the amount of the toxic chemical permitted into the atmosphere. Nail polish contains the chemical because of its hardening effect. Your polish would be rather pliable without the hardener. The agent is found in more products than just nail polish; however, no matter what the form, the danger still exists.

Toluene is used to produce a smooth finish over the finger/toenails. It also is harmful to the human nervous and reproductive systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that exposures can cause extreme fatigue, mental confusion, nausea, headaches and dizziness. Furthermore, extreme exposures have been linked to depression of the central nervous system as well as the bone marrow — both of which could be fatal.

While most people who receive manicures and pedicures do so with limited exposure to the toxic trio, the biggest risk is aimed at salon workers. These are the people who are exposed to the chemicals for at least 8 hours or more.

However, any exposure can be harmful and perhaps fatal, so it might be good to check on your salon’s product brands before your next visit. There are some manufacturers that have eliminated the use of the toxic trio from their products.

So far, OPI, a leading nail polish brand, no longer uses the toxic trio in any of its products. It appears that Orly and Sally Hansen has followed suit.

n More information on safe cosmetics: Visit the Safe Cosmetics Action Network at

Bell, Ph.D., MPH, is a public health professor with Ashford University and works in health promotions for the Meadville Family YMCA. You can email her at

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