Remember some things about nail polish before decorating your nails


Dr BL Jangid, Skin Specialist, SkinQure

Amongst all the makeup and beauty products, nail polish is perhaps the undisputed favourite amongst women. Fans of this product claim that a coat or two of nail polish is all it takes to make them look and feel instantly glamorous. The history of nail polish can be traced back to 3000 BC China. At that time, it was made up of fully natural ingredients – such as beeswax, fish-bone powder, egg whites, and naturally available dyes, including jade powder. In Ancient Egypt, nail polish was even used to signify class rankings: The lower class often wore nude and light colours, while high society painted their nails red. Most Central Asians used henna to dye their nails. This is before the advent of chemical nail varnishes.

Nail polish consists of a mix of an organic polymer and several other components, depending on the brand. And this is not entirely good news for all you devoted lovers of manicures and pedicures. If you’ve never paid attention to the ingredients in your nail polish, it is important for you to start doing that now. This is because a lot of these chemical ingredients are hazardous to health.

Studies Galore To Highlight Toxic Effects

Duke University had a group of researchers who found out from experiments that just the simple act of applying nail polish introduces diphenyl phosphate (DPHP), a highly toxic compound, into the body. DPHP is created when your body metabolizes the chemical triphenyl phosphate (TPP), and scientists believe that TPP could disrupt hormones in people and animals. In this study, urine samples of participants were tested before and after manicures. The results showed that DPHP levels of the respondents have increased by as much as seven times higher right after just 10-14 hours of getting their nails covered with nail polish. These levels of DPHP continued to increase and only began reducing slightly after 20 hours.

Effects of Nail polish toxins

There are many chemicals in nail polishes, but the most harmful are Toluene, Formaldehyde, and Dibutyl Phthalate. In fact, out of about ten thousand chemicals used to create nail care products, only about a tenth have been even studied for their safety. These chemicals have a particularly damaging effect on the endocrine system (especially the kidneys) and if used excessively can even cause cancer. 

Toluene is the reason why many nail paints are smoothly distributed across the nail. However, it can cause harm to the reproductive system. The chemical whose purpose is to stop the colour from separating in the bottle, can impact the central nervous system.

Formaldehyde’s basic function is to disinfect. In fact, laboratories use it on dead bodies. It is also carcinogenic. Dibutyl phthalate is an adhesive that is already banned in several countries, and it gives flexibility to nail polishes. It is suspected to harm the endocrine system and male reproductive system. Exposure to nail care products with harmful chemicals can result in a number of health effects, ranging from skin irritations, eye injuries and allergic reactions. In addition, research has also established a link between nail polish and memory problems, neurological symptoms, nausea, respiratory problems, cancer and uncontrollable muscle contractions to impaired reproductive and development processes. Immediate short term effects include headaches, breathing problems and skin irritations, commonly associated with overexposure to solvents used in these products. Unfortunately, even nail polishes with toxin-free labels may not be safe. Many of the nail polishes contain the toxin toluene, which could cause birth defects and developmental problems in children of pregnant women who are exposed to it for significant periods of time. It is for the presence of this chemical that nail polishes are not allowed inside aircrafts, though not many people follow this rule. Recent research has also found dibutyl phthalate (DBP) in some nail polishes, which has been linked to birth defects in lab animals.

The effects of short-term exposure to the chemicals found in nail polish are still unclear. This is also because there are some brands that refrain from using toxic ingredients. Most of these brands are, consequently, expensive. If you just get an occasional mani-pedi, there’s no reason to panic. But pregnant women would be better off to skip application of nail polish entirely.

Make Informed Choices

These facts do not necessarily mean you stop using nail polish completely. Moderation is key, even in the use of nail polishes. When used with caution and in moderation, you could reduce the risk involved in nail polish usage.

It is important to first read the ingredients that go into your favourite brand of nail polish. The second critical thing is to not get overboard with nailpolish usage. Do not keep nailpolish on the nails for more than a week. And always give a breathing time of at least 10 days between each application of nail polish. During this time, consume Vitamin E, zinc and protein-rich foods to nourish your nails.

About Author Dr B L Jangid

Dr B L Jangid, MD Skin is one the top dermatologists of Delhi, with more than 10 years of experience in new treatments, technology and research into skin and hair problems, skin surgeries, hair transplant surgeries, Lasers and anti-ageing. He practices at SkinQure in Saket.

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