"5-Free" Nail Polish: What It Is + Why You Should Care
Even though I’m terrible at it, I love painting my nails. Nail polish is fun and a little special, which is why it's so unsettling to know about the nasty chemicals that go into conventional polish products. So it's incredibly important to know about the cosmetics we use: where they come from, what effect they have on our health and the environment.
That said, it's also important to remind ourselves every now and then to stay realistic about certain products — not everything can (or should) be 100% natural.
Nail polish, unfortunately, is essentially a chemical-based product, and as much as we’d like to be able to pick its ingredients from trees, it's just not possible. That doesn’t mean we have to stay away from lacquer; it just means we have to make sure we're looking for brands that work hard to leave out known carcinogens and other nasty ingredients.
We know that nail polish can't be as natural as the food we eat and water we drink, but it can be "5-free." What’s that? Here’s a readable (no jargon, I promise) breakdown of the five most egregious chemicals found in conventional polish, and why you should do your best to avoid them.
Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid typically found in paint, varnishes, shellac, glues, adhesives, gasoline and some nail polishes. Breathing in this toxic ingredient can cause irritation to our eyes, noses and throats, and can even cause dry, callous skin. Excessive exposure to toluene can even cause sleeping difficulties and anxiety.
Dibutyl phthalate is used in nail products to help the dye blending process. DBP has been suggested to disrupt normal hormone function, and prolonged, excessive exposure can affect fertility and cause developmental defects in unborn children. Although these cases are few and far between (and only possible with exposure to large doses), it doesn’t hurt to look for alternatives in cosmetics.
3. & 4. Formaldehyde/Formaldehyde Resin
Widely used as a germicide and disinfectant, formaldehyde is also often used as a preservative in medical labs and mortuaries. Research has suggested that it has carcinogenic properties and as a result, it's part of the "5" some brands steer clear of.
Camphor is often used in nail polish as a plasticizer; it keeps the nail polish flexible after it’s dried. The thing about synthetic camphor though (the kind used in nail polish), is that it's highly toxic and in large doses can act as a poison. Camphor also has the potential to cause irritability, flushed skin and disorientation.
As consumers, we can only have so much knowledge about the chemicals we choose to have in our lives. But "choose" is a key word here. Though it might not always feel like it, we have complete power over what we use on our skin and put into our bodies. Additionally, the environmental impact we have on the planet comes back to the brands we support and their practices. Keep an eye out for companies that work in sustainable ways, such as using recyclable materials and small batch manufacturing methods to minimize wastage.
Every bit counts and it's great to see more and more brands going those extra lengths to make things easier for us and the earth.