• Beauty

This beauty staple has an unexpected cocktail of toxins

Our definitive list of the chemicals to avoid in nail polish

There’s nothing better than a relaxing mani or pedi, but did you know conventional nail polish contains a cocktail of toxic chemicals that can potentially be absorbed into your body? The “toxic trio” – aka formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate – are the worst offenders, with other common ingredients causing moderate reason for concern.

Fortunately, you don’t need to skip your favourite self-care ritual altogether, simply opt for a better formulation and be picky with your salon choice. The best – and easiest – way is to look for brands that boast 3-free or 5-free labels. Also, try water-based formulations. Not only do they skip the chemicals, they’re also better for your nails because they allow the nail bed to breathe.

If you’re sure whether your salon has toxin-free polishes our advice is to BYO. Or better yet, say no to fumes altogether by finding a salon that specialises in non-toxic polishes. 

Here’s our hit list of chemicals to look out for in your favourite nail polish:

Dibutyl Pthalate (DBP)

A common plasticiser used to make your polish flexible, it’s a known endocrine disruptor 


A solvent and volatile petrochemical that helps to create a smooth finish. Vapours can irritate lungs and skin. 


This is what helps to harden your polish, it has also been linked to organ toxicity and skin, eye and lung irritation.


You know that smell, it’s in chest rub and moth balls. Synthetic camphor is made from turpentine and is also used as a plasticiser in nail polish. While the jury is still out on its safety, it’s also easy to avoid with natural formulations. 

Triphenyl phosphate (TPHP)

Also a plasticiser, it has moderate concern as an endocrine disruptor and a neurotoxin. 


A solvent and sometimes used in fragrance, it has been linked to neurotoxicity and is a known irritant. 

RELATED: Your ultimate guide to clean beauty brands 

RELATED: Makeup artist approved non-toxic lipstick 

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