April 11, 2012— -- Although the state of California this week reported finding a "toxic trio" of ingredients in some inaccurately labeled nail polishes, there's no need to give up those mani-pedis in the name of health.
"Manufacturers have broken the level of trust with the public and with the nail salon community," said Julia Liou, co-founder of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, Tuesday before appearing with state officials to discuss the findings of the report.
"No one can trust the labels," Liou said. The report said that some nail polish manufacturers are making claims on their product labels to be free of the "toxic trio" of chemicals linked to cancer, asthma and birth defects, even though state testing of 25 products in some cases detected them.
While accepting that some labeling may be unreliable and could be improved, consumers who want painted nails also should think about where they're having their nails done. Air quality inside a salon is important no matter how often patrons come in. It's even more important to the thousands of licensed manicurists -- 121,000 in California alone -- who may breathe chemical fumes 10 hours a day, seven days a week, said Liou, a public health administrator at Asian Health Services in Oakland, who is among advocates pressing for better ventilation to dissipate the concentrated chemical vapors.
In its "Safer Nail Salons," report, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control tested 25 randomly selected nail polishes and thinners for three common chemicals that make nail lacquers shiny, quick-drying and flexible.
One of the three toxins, the aromatic solvent toluene, can irritate the eyes, throat and lungs, damage the nervous system and potentially harm an unborn child. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), which keeps polish from becoming brittle, also can cause reproductive harm. Formaldehyde, a nail hardener also used in a wide variety of products including air fresheners and the Brazilian Blowout hair straightener, is a known carcinogen.
Tests found toluene in 10 of a dozen products labeled toluene-free, and also identified at least one member of the toxic trio in five of seven products labeled as "three-free."
Despite the chemical exposures inherent in applying base coats, color, top coats and nail-hardeners to fingernails and toenails in the name of beauty, here are some ways to reduce health risks.
"I use it and it doesn't smell, which is a novelty," Malkan said.
"Clearly, it's possible to make a safer product," Archer said.
Children Can Bring Their Own Non-Toxic Polishes to Parties
Taggart, who before her marriage sported acrylic nails, said she's reluctant to allow her daughter to have a salon manicure "because you don't control what they're using, you don't know about the ventilation, and there are people doing acrylics or gels or all the other types of applications."
Taggart remembers refusing to let her daughter participate at a princess party where the children's nails were being polished and spritzed with a quick-drying nail spray. Although she considers the bring-your-own-polish technique a compromise, it has allowed her daughter to avoid feeling left out and allowed Taggart to sleep at night.
When in doubt about product formulations, contact the manufacturer by phone or email, Taggart suggested. She said she worries less about the effects of the toxic trio in nail polish alone than the cumulative effects of multiple exposures to the formaldehyde that's also in pressed wood products and secondhand smoke and the phthalates also in face creams, perfumes and scented products. "You have to be aware of label claims and realize that they're not always accurate, whether it's a product saying it's natural or green, or whether saying it's free of a particularly chemical," she said. "Ask the company what standard do you use? How do you test? Who verifies it?"