What we should know about nail polishes

Bee, my daughter who's 3, is at the phase where she loves everything sparkly, shiny and pink.  She told me today she wants hot pink finger and toe nails to match her dress !  She saw the color on her dentist's fingers a couple months ago and has been asking for them since.  I am not a fan of nail polish !  I probably paint my nails less than 5 times in my life :-(  Just not my thing.

Bee keeps on bugging me so I decided to paint her nails with the polish I picked up a while ago for a wedding.  The smell was so awful I only put a dot on each nail.   I decided to look into "odorless" nail polish for Bee.  What I was unprepared for was that I came across a whole host of other things I should be concerned with, other than the smell.  Who knew those little jars of pretty color are packed with chemicals.  I knew they weren't good but I didn't know they were this toxic.  According to David Suzuki Foundation report, What's Inside, That Counts, 80 per cent of cosmetics contain at least one ingredient linked with health and environmental concerns, including cancer, reproductive disorders, asthma and severe allergies.

Your bottle of nail polish has at least three.
1. Dibutyl phthalate — Used as a solvent for dyes and as a plasticizer to prevent nail polishes from becoming brittle, this phthalate is classified by the EU as a suspected endocrine disruptor and as toxic to reproduction. Health Canada associates DBP with liver and kidney failure in young children when products (and polished little fingers) containing phthalates are sucked or chewed for extended periods. Although Health Canada banned six phthalates (including DBP) in soft vinyl children's toys, its use in cosmetics is not restricted. The European Union classifies DBP as very toxic to aquatic organisms.
2. Formaldehyde — (Yes, seriously. In your nail polish.) Formaldehyde is a common ingredient in nail hardeners in concentrations of up to five per cent. In nail polish, tosylamide/formaldehyde resin is used, and may contain residual formaldehyde concentrations of up to 0.5 per cent. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen.
3. Toluene — According the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, toluene is a moderate skin irritant that can cause dermatitis with prolonged contact. It is also a developmental toxicity hazard and has been identified in human milk. Inhalation of toluene vapour can affect the central nervous system causing slight drowsiness and headache at low levels and Irritation of the nose, throat and respiratory tract at increased levels.
I did some more searches and found a few brands that don't have the above ingredients.  Brands like Piggy Paint, Suncoat, Honeybee Garden, to name just a few.  Some are even water based !  I read their ingredients, looked some up, and read reviews.  They sounded safe.  I decided to go with Piggy Paint since lots of moms raved about it.

I was excited to finally found "safe" polish for Bee, BUT my happiness quickly evaporated when I came across this article written by a lady chemist:

"are nail polishes which claim to be natural or nontoxic really any better?

As a chemist who knows a thing or two about cosmetic formulations, and also knowing that the claim "natural" is an unregulated and much overused term, I had my doubts that these formulations would deliver on their promises.  Upon researching a variety of these so-called "natural" nail polish brands, I was disappointed (but not surprised) to find that not only are they not natural, many do not even provide the full ingredient listing with correct cosmetic ingredient (INCI) names.  In fact, many nail polish products, including those which score "safest" on the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Database, list only general ingredient descriptions.  (Side note, the lack of full disclosure of ingredients is WHY these products score so low / safe on the cosmetics database -just one of many loopholes / issues with this database).

Here is the ingredient listing for one such brand, Aquarella, as found on their website:  Acrylic polymer emulsion, Water, and non-toxic colorants (No FD&C). You don't have to be a chemist to see that this ingredient listing is in stark contrast to the one from OPI shown above, which lists each and every ingredient that can be found in the product.  The general description of ingredients provided by Aquarella tells us nothing about the specific chemicals used in their nail polishes. What exactly is in that "acrylic polymer emulsion"??

Not to single out Aquarella, I found many other brands which do not fully disclose their ingredients, including Honeybee Gardens, Scotch Naturals, Piggy Paint, and more.  Others, such as Priti, make claims about their ingredients to "prove" their naturalness...but, just because the solvent Butyl Acetate has (as they mention on their website) "the sweet smell of banana", that doesn't make it natural or nontoxic.  Butyl Acetate happens to be the primary ingredient in most conventional nail polishes too. 
So, is there any difference between "natural" nail polishes and "conventional"?

Generally speaking, I found there are two types of nail polish formulations claiming to be natural / nontoxic.  First, water-based formulations, which obviously will include some water, polymer(s) and colorants.  Notably, these types of formulations will also include a preservative (if they're really water based, they need a preservative to prevent bacterial growth).  The water-based nail polish formulations I found (which disclosed the name of their preservative) were typically using an ingredient called Methylisothiazolinone, although some brands were calling it by one of its trade names (name used by the vendor), either Neolone 950 or Kathon CG. 

The second type of nail polish formulations I found claihming to be natural / nontoxic are solvent based formulations, which coincidentally, are very similar to conventional nail polish formulations.  In fact, the difference is, well...there is no difference -at least not from what I can tell.  Both are using the same primary ingredients, butyl acetate, ethyl acetate and nitrocellulose, a variety of plasticizers and a variety of colorants.  Those so-called natural nail polishes are typically not disclosing their complete ingredient listings, so who would ever know what the difference is anyway?"

I like how Melissa (the chemist) wasn't trying to persuade me into not buying the products, she was just presenting the facts, explaining her case.  My thought towards this whole nail polish business is this, I don't think there's such a thing as natural nail lacquer !  for the liquid color to bond to our nails, hardens as it dries, it will surely need some chemicals.  Common sense can tell us that !  Though, IF I ever consider to buy nail polish, I think I will likely buy from manufacturers who are at least attempting to make non toxic nail polishes !  at least I know that they are trying to make better quality nail polishes, ones that contain less amount of chemicals.  I can only hope that they are what they said.  At the end of day, as we all know, everyone is out to make a quick buck.
Daddy and Bee with stickers on their finger nails

For now I will hold out from buying Bee nail polishes.  She seems to be happy with tiny stickers on her fingers.  I don't see the need of adding more chemicals in our lives if we can opt out.  If Bee keeps badgering me, I think a short explanation of why we're not buying it, followed by a fun game and she'll get over it !  I know my girl, I know she prefers games over many of things !  for now anyway !