By Samantha Bove
Unless you have already jumped on the natural-beauty bandwagon, it is likely that you have been subjecting your body to chemicals linked to cancer and infertility for years. Until recently, researchers were under the impression that the chemicals used to produce nail polish were unable to penetrate through the nail, rendering them harmless, but a new study conducted by researchers at Duke University has proven that one toxic and commonly used chemical, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), is in fact being absorbed into the body.
The study was conducted by Dr. Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist and exposure scientist at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.
“We started observing a really interesting trend in that women had much higher exposure to TPHP than men did. This suggested to us that there was another source, most likely a personal care product that was the source,” says Stapleton.
After one researcher did a quick google search, nail polish became the frontrunner cause.
TPHP is a chemical compound used as an ingredient in polish, serving to increase flexibility and durability, but more commonly known as a plasticizer and fire retardant within furniture. However, TPHP is also classified as an endocrine disruptor, meaning it interferes with hormones— think fat growth, breast cancer and even miscarriages.
“In animal studies, exposure to triphenyl phosphate can cause several adverse effects,” says Stapleton. “It affects reproduction, sexual development and thyroid regulation.”
Twenty-six women participated in this voluntary study to test the amount of diphenyl phosphate (DPHP) that was in their urine before and after they applied nail polish containing TPHP. DPHP is important to test because it is what the body creates after TPHP is metabolized. After 14 hours, all of the participants showed a DPHP increase of nearly seven times. Experts suggest this increase indicates that the TPHP is being absorbed, likely through the cuticles. For a nail polish that only contains an estimated 1% of TPHP, it appears to be a substantial increase.
According to the Environmental Working Group’s database, approximately 50% of 3,000 nail polishes disclose that they contain TPHP. These include popular brands that dominate the market such as Essie, OPI Revlon and Sally Hansen.
Other harmful and commonly used nail polish ingredients include dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene and formaldehyde, sometimes referred to as the “Toxic Trio”. Dibutyl phthalate is currently banned by the European Union as an ingredient in personal care products and in cosmetics due to its classification as a reproductive toxin. Similar to dibutyl phthalate, toluene has been linked to spontaneous abortion, kidney and liver damage, and without proper ventilation, severe respiratory issues and even death. Formaldehyde, more commonly known as the ingredient to preserve cadavers, is classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
The sad truth about America’s multi billion-dollar beauty industry is that the FDA has virtually no control over what companies are required to disclose.
“We’re not going to be able to assure the safety of nail polish and cosmetics until the government requires manufacturers to prove that the ingredients are safe for human health before they are put in products,” says Jamie Silberberger McConnell, Director of Programs and Policy for Women’s Voices for the Earth. Until then it lies in the consumers’ hands to research the products they are using.
Before you throw away your treasured collection of nail polish shades you’ve been working on since the ninth grade or mourn the loss of those addicting massage chairs, it is important to note that there is no research done yet on the long-term effects of TPHP in the body.
“It is always good to use caution and moderation, so maybe not getting your nails done every week could be helpful, but particularly avoiding nail polish ingredients during pregnancy is wise,” says Stapleton.
If you are in California, Julia Liou, co-founder of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, suggests finding a certified “Healthy Nail Salon Near You.” These salons use toxic-trio-free polish removers without ethyl or butyl acetate, ventilation systems, and have trained workers says Liou. Until programs such as this one reach your state, you can always bring in your own natural nail polish with you to your salon of choice.
The bottom line, just because products are on the market does not mean they were checked for safety. For example, the European Union currently bans over 1,300 chemicals in cosmetics and the US has only banned 11. It is most important to remember that when it comes to all beauty products you must keep in mind if a product is toxic to ingest, you may want to think twice before applying it on your body or staying in an environment that enhances your exposure.