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Back in 2006, OPI nail polish was reformulated to remove dibutyl phthalate (DBP), an endocrine disruptor rated 10 out of 10 (10 being most toxic) in the Skin Deep database. OPI also states that their nail polishes do not contain formaldehyde or toluene. But is it safe?
You might have heard of nail polishes that claim to be free of the so-called “toxic trio,” or nail polishes free of the “Big Five.” When I hear the phrase “free of” something, I look into what is used instead and if the substitutes are disclosed, safer, and have enough health data. You might find that in order to know what substitutes to look for, it is helpful to understand how nail polishes are made. For example, why are phthalates used in nail polishes to begin with? And is it possible to make a polish without any phthalates? In other words, are they removing all phthalates? Or are they substituting one phthalate with another that may be less notorious, but perhaps only because it is less studied? Does the removal of one phthalate make the nail polish non-toxic?
In this post, we will look into the safety of OPI nail polish, a nail salon popular brand, and learn about what types of ingredients go into the making of a typical nail polish such as OPI nail polish, which is free of the “toxic trio” – DBP, formaldehyde, and toluene.
A list of ingredients for one of the OPI nail polishes: OPI Best Of Summer Nail Lacquer Collection
Ethyl Acetate, Butyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Propyl Acetate, Tosylamide Formaldehyde Resin, Isopropyl Alcohol, Trimethyl Pentanyl Diisobutyrate, Triphenyl Phosphate, Ethyl Tosylamide, Camphor, Stearalkonium Bentonite, Diacetone Alcohol, Stearalkonium Hectorite, Benzophenone 1, Citric Acid, Dimethicone, CI 77120, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), CI 77499, FD&C Yellow 5 Aluminum Lake, FD&C Red 6. (Source)
Let me group them by functions.
Solvents in OPI Nail Polish
Solvents are used to help nail polishes flow smoothly. They are the carriers of the other ingredients.
Ethyl Acetate: a synthetic solvent, irritant to lung, eye, and skin, in Europe workplace exposure is allowed in moderate doses, rated 1 out of 10 with fair data available (10 being most toxic) in the Skin Deep database.
Butyl Acetate: a synthetic solvent, irritant to lung, eye, and skin, in Europe workplace exposure is allowed in moderate doses, rated 1 out of 10 with limited data available (10 being most toxic) in the Skin Deep database.
Propyl Acetate: a synthetic solvent, irritant to lung, eye, and skin, in Europe workplace exposure is allowed in moderate doses, rated 1 or 2 (depending on use) out of 10 with limited data available (10 being most toxic) in the Skin Deep database.
Isopropyl Alcohol: a solvent, irritant to lung, eye, and skin, in Europe workplace exposure is allowed in moderate doses, rated 2 out of 10 with fair data available (10 being most toxic) in the Skin Deep database.
Diacetone Alcohol: a solvent used to make your nail shiny; irritating to lungs, skin, and eyes in big quantities, OSHA allows exposure of up to 50 ppm averaged over an 8-day work shift; rated 1 with limited data in the Skin Deep database.
So the conclusion on the solvents is that they are toxic in bigger quantities. The potential health harms can be reduced by good ventilation. However, we have to consider that nail salon workers spend lots of hours inhaling them daily.
Film-Formers in OPI Nail Polish
Film-formers help nail polishes become hard, resilient, and shiny.
Nitrocellulose: a film-forming agent; a highly flammable ingredient obtained by treating cellulose with nitric acid; rated 1 out of 10 with fair amount of data available in the Skin Deep Database; its effect on aquatic life has not been studied yet though; may contain Tosylamide Formaldehyde Resin, an allergen.
Tosylamide Formaldehyde Resin: a polymer derived from toluenesulfonamide and formaldehyde; is used to make the coating tough and resilient and also helps the nail polish adhere to the nail, adds gloss and helps the nail polish flow well when applied; rated 4 with limited data available in the Skin Deep database; releases trace amounts of formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen and rated 10 out of 10 in the Skin Deep Database; it is an emerging allergen and the FDA states on its website that there is evidence that some people may become allergic to it.
Dimethicone: a silicon-based polymer; is rated 3 with limited data available in the Skin Deep database; while I can’t find scientifically documented adverse health impacts, I do not use it on my skin as it creates a non-breathable layer that may contribute to bacteria trapping; this would not be applicable to nail polish.
The biggest concern here is Tosylamide Formaldehyde Resin. Even the FDA states that there is evidence that some people are allergic to it and solicit reporting of the allergic reactions.
Plasticizers in OPI Nail Polish
There are four plasticizers in the OPI nail polish. Plasticizers are used to prevent chips and cracks.
Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP): a plasticizer; rated 5 out 10 with fair amount of data available in the Skin Deep database; is linked to endocrine disruption and neurodevelopmental effects at very low doses.
Ethyl Tosylamide: a plasticizer; rated 3 out 10 with limited data available in the Skin Deep database.
Camphor: a plasticizer, a waxy scented substance derived from the wood of the camphor tree; rated 2 with fair data availability in the Skin Deep database; may cause nausea, dizziness, and headaches when inhaled, especially in large doses, making it a concern for nail technicians (source).
As you can see while DBP is not used, there are four other plasticizers used. Two of them have limited data and one of them, like DBP, is linked to endocrine disruption, potentially posing a threat to nail salon workers and the fetuses of the women who are pregnant. The EWG advises not to buy nail polish if the label says triphenyl phosphate, TPHP, dibutyl phthalate or DBP. So as we can see, DBP substitutes are not an improvement.
Suspending Agents in OPI Nail Polish
There are two suspending agents in the OPI nail polish designed to help evenly distribute colorants.
Stearalkonium Bentonite: a suspending agent; a reaction product of bentonite, a type of aluminosilicate clay, and stearalkonium chloride, a quaternary amine surfactant and antimicrobial agent; rated 1 with no data available in the Skin Deep database.
Stearalkonium Hectorite: a suspending agent; produced from hectorite, a naturally occurring mineral and a principal constituent of bentonite clay; rated 1 with no data available in the Skin Deep database; it many be contaminated with the possible human carcinogen nitrosamines.
As you can see, both of them do not have any data to know their safety.
Colorants in OPI Nail Polish
Colorants: CI 77120, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), CI 77499, FD&C Yellow 5 Aluminum Lake, FD&C Red 6.
The prefix CI means that the colorant is of mineral origin and the prefix FD&C means that it is a petroleum-based substance. They both can contain traces of heavy metals. Which ones tend to have higher amounts of heavy metals is unclear. In addition, petroleum-based dyes may contain other contaminants unique to petroleum and coal tar, which includes PAHs and brominated resorcinol. You can read more about that, here.
UV absorber/stabilizer in OPI Nail Polish
Benzophenone 1: a benzene-based UV absorber meaning that it prevents color fading; is rated 4 with limited data available in the Skin Deep database; is linked to endocrine disruption and contact allergy.
Other ingredients in OPI Nail Polish
Citric Acid: a food-grade ingredient; used to adjust the acidity of a product; is rated 2 with good availability of data in the Skin Deep database; is commonly derived from a fungus, Aspergillus Niger, which may be a genetically modified microorganism (source).
The biggest No-No’s in OPI Nail Polish
The biggest three concerns I have with the OPI nail polish are the plasticizer Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP), which is linked to endocrine disruption and contact allergy, and the film former Tosylamide Formaldehyde Resin, which is linked to allergic reaction, and Benzophenone, which is linked to endocrine disruption and contact allergy. These are big no-no’s for me. Unfortunately, OPI nail polish is widely used in nail salons and marketed as “non-toxic” due the fact that has none of the “toxic trio,” which is DBP, formaldehyde, and toluene.
I am planning to look into the safety of other nail polishes. Please let me know in the comments which nail polish you use or consider using and would like to be included.