All About Nail Polish – The Facts

All About Nail Polish – The Facts

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Orly Va Va Voom Nail Polish SwatchIs Nail Polish Bad For You?

Many people ask questions about nail polish and whether it is bad for you. The most common questions include;

Is nail polish bad for your skin?
Can nail polish be bad for your nails?
Is nail polish toxic?
How harmful is nail polish?
Are polishes still good without the toxic chemicals?

In this blog post I am going to answer the above questions and provide some information and facts about nail polish and specific ingredients.

Many studies by researchers argue that the amount of toxic chemicals found within nail polish are both harmful to the wearer and the worker, whereas others suggest that the amount of any toxic chemical isn’t enough to cause harm to the wearer.

As with everything, everyone reacts differently to different things, in this case, the chemicals within nail polish. You may find your nails and skin are ok with a specific brand , however your friends nails may be a little sensitive to that brand.

Toxic Trio, Big-3, Big-4 and Big-5

Research has shown that certain toxic chemicals that has been used within many nail polishes should be removed as they can be harmful. These chemicals are often referred to as the ‘Toxic Trio’, ‘Big-3’, ‘Big-4’ and ‘Big-5’ and are all phthalates.

Toxic Trio / Big-3

The Toxic Trio or the Big-3 as it’s also known is a collection of three toxic chemicals:

  1. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)
  2. Formaldehyde
  3. Toluene

Toxic Trio / Big-3 Free nail polishes DO NOT contain these above chemicals.

What is Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)

Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) is an oily liquid that is most commonly used as a plasticiser and as an additive to various adhesives and within paints and printing inks. Within nail polish, DBP it is used to make polish last longer on the nails by helping to prevent chips and cracks forming.

The use of DBP in cosmetic products, including nail polish (and within children’s toys) is banned within the European Union.

Researchers have linked Phthalates to various diseases and issues, including cancer, asthma and fertility issues.

What is Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a naturally-occurring organic compound. At room temperature this chemical is colourless, flammable and pungent / strong-smelling and is used to product many household products

Formaldehyde is known as a human carcinogen and has been linked to cancer.

What is Toluene

Toluene is a colourless liquid that is produced when making gasoline from crude oil. This chemical is used as a solvent and found within paints, paint thinners, shoe polish and rubber. Toluene makes nail polish easy to apply.


The Big-4 contains the toxic chemicals from the Toxic Trio / Big-3 and also Camphor. Big-4 Free nail polishes DO NOT contain the below chemicals.

  1. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)
  2. Formaldehyde
  3. Toluene
  4. Camphor

What is Camphor

Camphor is used in nail polish to give it the glossy appearance. Camphor is sometimes used in vapor rubs and nasal sprays.


The Big-5 contains all the toxic chemicals from the Big-4 and also Formaldehyde Resin. Big-5 Free nail polishes DO NOT contain the below chemicals.

  1. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)
  2. Formaldehyde
  3. Toluene
  4. Camphor
  5. Formaldehyde Resin

What is Formaldehyde Resin

Formaldehyde Resin is a by-product of formaldehyde and has been known to cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.

Nail Polish – It Isn’t All Bad News!

Nail polish isn’t all bad! There are now plenty of nail polish brands within the beauty industry that are safe to use and kind on your skin and nails that don’t contain toxic chemicals.

Many established brands have changed their formulas so their nail polish is free of the toxic chemicals. These brands are easy to spot as they tend to promote this well if they have non-toxic formulas. I have listed some of these brands at the end of this post.

Is nail polish bad for your skin? / Is nail polish bad for your nails?

As previously mentioned within this post, everyone’s bodies, skin and nails are different. Some people may be sensitive to one brand or type of nail polish whereas another person will be ok. Nail polish is safe for most consumers. Take the necessary steps for you and your body and remember to consider if you have sensitive skin, sensitive immune system, have an allergy to any of the listed ingredients within products, are pregnant and / or nursing or a young child.

Is Nail Polish Toxic? / How Harmful is Nail Polish?

Only nail polish which contains any of the Big-5 are generally considered to be toxic.

As with everything I’m sure, used in moderation nail polish is fine. Remember to be smart, consider the type of nail polish you purchase, choose polish that is kind to your nails and skin and preferably with less toxic chemicals, the better. If you are sensitive to a certain nail polish brand, try another brand. At the end of this post I have listed some nail polish brands that are free of the Big-3 and Free of the Big-5.

Salon workers, beauticians and manicurists should be careful to not breathe in too many fumes while painting nails if using nail polish that contain any of the above mentioned chemicals. Especially as research has shown that breathing in too much of these fumes can cause wheezing and asthma. As salon staff can be constantly around nail polish, salon owners should be aware of the environment that their staff work in, whether it’s well ventilated and how long their staff spend painting nails.

Are Nail Polishes Still Good Without the Toxic Chemicals?

Yes, nail polish that do not contain any of the 5 toxic chemicals mentioned are ‘good’ polishes. Some of these brands that don’t contain any of the toxic chemicals are in-fact high end luxury brands such as Dior and Channel and high street brands including Orly and Deborah Lippmann. Personally I have tried Dior and Orly nail polishes and love them both! They both provide brilliant colour, consistency and a great finish.

Which Nail Polish Brands Do Not Contain Toxic Chemicals?

Below is a list of some of the 3 Free and 5 Free nail polish brands

3 Free Nail Polishes

Barry M
Butter London
Models Own

5 Free Nail Polishes

Deborah Lippmann



Do you have any further information about nail polish that you’d like to share or have any questions? Comment in the comments section below.

I love all things beauty and trying new brands, new beauty fads and new beauty treatments both in and out of a salon. My favourite beauty brand is Dior. I love my family and friends, animals and Starbucks coffee, white cafe mocha to be precise and I have a pet fish. I have a degree in: Bachelor of Arts (BA), Drama and Dramatics/Theatre Arts with honors and CIM – CAM Diploma in Digital Marketing My secret...I have an inner geek and love keeping up to date with digital marketing and SEO.


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