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Toxic Chemicals Found in California Non-Toxic Nail Polishes

Safe Cosmetics, Proposition 65, Nail Polish Chemicals

A California Department of Toxic Substances Control report released today has determined that several nail polishes claiming to be toxin-free do, in fact, contain chemicals that are known to cause birth defects, developmental problems, respiratory issues such as asthma and other chronic illnesses and conditions.

Investigators chose 25 brands of nail polish at random from six locations in the San Francisco area. Twelve of them claimed to be free of “the toxic three” – dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, and formaldehyde. Five of those brands were found to include one or more of the agents in significant levels.

Dibutyl phthalate is used in making flexible plastics found in a variety of consumer products including shower curtains, raincoats, and food wraps. In nail polish, it prevents the cosmetic from chipping. Animal studies have reported developmental and reproductive effects from oral exposure to DBP. According to the EPA, tests have also shown moderate toxicity in mice and rats due to inhalation exposure.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling chemical used in many household products such as paper product coatings, particleboard, and glues and adhesives. The chemical has been classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the US EPA. Exposure occurs primarily by inhaling formaldehyde vapor from the air or by absorbing liquids through the skin.

Ten of 12 products that claimed to be toluene-free actually contained the chemical with four of those products having dangerously high levels. Toluene is used in the production of polymers such as nylon, plastic soda bottles, and in cosmetics. The highest concentrations of toluene usually occur in indoor air from the use of products such as fragrances and nail polish. The central nervous system is the primary target organ for toluene toxicity. Acute exposure can also decrease resistance to respiratory infection.

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The use of these three chemicals in nail products is not illegal, however the false claims on the labels may be. A final decision on that will be made by the state attorney general's office. Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman, said the office will examine the data in the report and assess for compliance with Proposition 65, a California state law that requires all harmful chemicals in a product to be revealed by the manufacturer.

Plus, said Julia Liou, co-founder of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, "The misbranding of products is not only a major public health problem, but also interferes with a salon worker's right to a safe and healthy work environment."

Women who work in the more than 48,000 nail salons in California and their customers are at risk, notes Karl Palmer, the DTSC’s pollution prevention performance manager who oversaw the report, because these salons are often poorly ventilated, leading to increased inhalation exposure risk.

"Our strategy first and foremost is to shed light on the reality of what's in these products and put this information out to everyone," he said.

Among the products tested that the state says were mislabeled were: Sation 99 basecoat, Sation 53 red-pink nail color, Dare to Wear nail lacquer, Chelsea 650 Baby's Breath Nail Lacquer, New York Summer Nail Color, Paris Spicy 298 nail lacquer, Sunshine nail lacquer, Cacie Light Free Gel Basecoat, Cacie Sun Protection Topcoat, Golden Girl Topcoat, Nail Art Top-N-Seal and High Gloss Topcoat.

Sources Include:
CBS News
Environmental Protection Agency
National Cancer Institute

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