Sparkling Toenails: Let’s Talk About Nail Polish

I treat a lot of people who have thick, yellow, ugly toenails.  When there is a big, visible problem with your toenails you are much more aware.  Quite often I see someone who asks if there is anything they can do about their dry, cracking toenails.  The first question is, “do you regularly wear nail polish?”.  You see there are three preservatives commonly used in nail polish that are known to be harmful.  These are termed “The Toxic Trio”, which are: toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl, phthalate (DBP).  I’ll tell you the really harmful effects in the scientific literature soon, but these preservatives are also harmful to the nail often resulting in cracking and thinning.

The Toxic Trio:

Toluene is responsible for giving that smooth finish to polish and pain and helps it to dry quicker.  When released into the air toluene is known to cause headaches, dizziness, a tired feeling, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.  As if that’s not enough, Toluene is also known to be a reproductive disruptor and cause damage to liver and kidneys.  This preservative is banned in Europe for its many toxic side effects and potential for transfer to an unborn fetus or breast feeding child.

Fromaldehyde is the hardener in nail polish and prevents chipping.  This has a unique foul odor that most everyone who has been in high school biology recognizes.  The fumes obviously irritate eyes, nose, and throat besides formaldehyde being a known carcinogen (causes cancer).  Not surprising, formaldehyde is banned in Europe.

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) adds flexibility and sheen to your nail polish. DBP is a known carcinogen and has been linked to birth defects and damage to reproductive organs.  Again this has been shown to be hazardous to your kidneys, lungs, and liver.


What can you do about it?

At Desert Foot Surgeons, I have recommendations for patients who want their toenails polished:

  1. If you are not certain that the instruments at a salon are sterilized, bring your own.  These are available in packs that you can clean yourself.  At least you will know that the instruments were not used on another person’s diseased toenails or skin.
  2. Bring your own polish.  Same reason as above.
  3. Buy nail polish that does not have the toxic trio.  We have Dr.’s Remedy Nail Polish available in the office.  It has none of the toxic trio and goes one step further by enriching their polish with tea tree oil, garlic bulb extract, wheat protein, Vitamin C and Vitamin E.  This is the only brand of nail polish that can make the claim to be anti-fungal.