When Labels Lie: Toxins Found in “Non-Toxic” Nail Polish

California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has released a report indicating that many salon-used nail polishes labeled “non-toxic” actually contain harmful levels of toxins tied to asthma, birth defects, and developmental problems.  

After analyzing a random sample of 25 nail polishes from salons in the San Francisco area, scientists say more than half of the products tested positive for dangerous concentrations of toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and formaldehyde, three chemicals christened the “toxic trio.”  

While the agents aren’t illegal to use when clearly identified on products, mislabeling goods as “non-toxic” counts as a violation of California law that mandates “the disclosure of harmful chemicals in consumer products.” It remains unknown whether the state attorney general plans to pursue legal action, which would result in fines for violating companies.  

According to the Associated Press, the offenders include: 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.  

The polishes are not sold in retail stores, making salon employees the most vulnerable to the toxic trio’s side effects. Currently, however, the DTSC still lacks enough information to determine the number of people currently exposed to the risk.  

“We know there are exposures at salons, both to workers and customers, and we’re concerned about potential harm,” said Karl Palmer, the DTSC’s pollution prevention performance manager who oversaw the report. “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.”    

Other experts contend that manufacturers’ false claims mislead consumers’ health decisions, trampling upon their rights and safety.      

“Many salons choose brands that do not contain toluene and dibutyl phthalate as a way to protect workers and customers from potentially harmful exposure to these chemicals,” comments Julia Liou, of the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance. “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.”    

Yet as legal and consumer outrage mounts, some nail polish manufacturers are defending their practices.  

“We will look at the report and challenge it,” said Mike Vo, vice president of Miss Professional Nail Products Inc., the company that fabricates Sation products.  

In the meantime, activists are fighting a battle of their own, urging consumers to sign a petition addressed to Dr. Ron Chapman, Director of the California Department of Public Health, aimed at passing more stringent rules on product manufacturers. Anyone wishing to sign the petition can do so here:  


Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Polished.jpg

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