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How toxic is your nail polish?

Polished nails are a popular touch to any girl’s look.  But how much do we really know about nail polish?  The smell alone makes many people nauseous.  OPI is a brand many of us have seen on store shelves at beauty shops, drug stores and nail salons.  It is considered a quality nail polish for a reasonable price.  But is it worth the toxins?

OPI is the largest manufacturer of nail polish in the world.  They sell nail polish around the world and the chemicals in nail polish differ in each country.   In 2006, OPI nail polish was ranked as one of the most toxic cosmetic products on the EWG’s Skin Deep database (of more than 14,000 cosmetic products).  They were criticized for selling nail polish in the US with much higher levels of toxic chemicals than what they sell in Europe.  The EU laws are much stricter than the US laws which are administered by the Food and Drug Administration.

The chemicals in question include dibutylphthalate (DBP), formaldehyde and toluene, also known as the “toxic trio”.  These chemicals are suspected of contributing to cancer, reproductive harm, asthma and other negative health conditions.

The criticism in 2006 along with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and public pressure prompted OPI to consider reformulate its nail polish sold in the US.  They removed the “toxic trio”.  The first to be removed was DBP and a year later, OPI removed toluene.  Formaldehyde, a chemical that hardens and strengthens took longer to eliminate.  Eventually, OPI came out with a formaldehyde-free nail polish.

Today, OPI proudly advertises its nail products as DBP, toluene and formaldehyde free.  They state on their website, “OPI is committed to the safety of our consumers and of Beauty Professionals, and emphasize that we have always taken the necessary steps to ensure that our products exceed safety standards”.

OPI is an example of a company that came under scrutiny by the public for not offering safer products.  They changed their products and remain highly successful and a popular choice for nail enthusiasts.  Competitors in the nail industry such as Sally Hansen and Zoya have followed OPI and now make nail polish without the “toxic trio”.  Though, this is a fairly recent trend in the beauty industry and there are still many companies that have not followed suit.

The story of OPI shows that businesses do listen to their consumers.  US regulations for the allowance of toxic chemicals in cosmetics have not changed, but public pressure and campaigns were a success.



4 thoughts on “How toxic is your nail polish?

  1. Lauren, this is exactly the type of product I believe Jordi had in mind when he wanted us to research for these posts. It is very interesting to learn how nailpolish companies used to incorporate different toxins in their product, and makes me think about what other products may house such toxins. I recall the pungent odor of nailpolish from my sister and my mother decorating their nails, and I always assumed that such a product must be safe to be inhaled. Little do you realize, especially early in ones life, the harm products can house.

    Posted by Derek | February 14, 2012, 10:50 pm
  2. What is EWG?

    Posted by Jordi | February 15, 2012, 3:10 pm
  3. Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization. They advocate for policy changes in regards to health-care consumer products. They basically investigate products that are thought to contribute to health problems for people.

    Posted by Lauren Daley | February 15, 2012, 3:17 pm
  4. So funny that you wrote this, as I am literally painting my nails with OPI nail polish right now! I was so concerned when I read your title… as a nail biter, I frequently have breaks in my skin around my nails, so knowing that toxic chemicals may – at this moment – be entering my bloodstream was a very unpleasant thought. But your article reassured me that I was safe! This was absolutely the kind of information that Jordi wanted for this week. Thanks for your research and well-written post. Isn’t it nice after reading Nike cases to see a company making positive changes?

    Posted by Caitlin H. | February 16, 2012, 1:34 am

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