Is Nail Polish Safe to Use on Kids

Is Nail Polish Safe for Kids?

It’s pretty obvious that most nail polish is not all-natural…as consumers we get this. But as parents, we have to ask ourselves: is nail polish safe for kids to use? Is nail polish toxic? Do the chemicals in nail polish enter your child’s bloodstream? And is the amount significant enough to even worry about? My children always loved playing with kids nail polish — well, mom’s really! –and even though they’re older now, I wish I had known the truth well before now.

Turns out that most nail polish is toxic, containing numerous cancer-causing chemicals, neuro-toxins and hormone disruptors.  What’s shocking is that even those nail polishes which state they are FREE of these chemicals are not. Sigh. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Incorrect, inadequate, misleading or straight up wrong labeling on products? So let’s investigate.

What Dangerous Toxins are Found in Nail Polish?

The top four most dangerous chemicals found in brand name nail polish include:

  1. Toluene
  2. Dibutyl Phthalate
  3. Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP)
  4. Formaldehyde

One of more of these toxins in nail polish that has been found consistently in brands including Sally Hansen, Essie, OPI, Revlon, Wet N Wild, Maybelline and Beauty Without Cruelty (what’s up with that last one?? Sheesh, just when you think you can trust a company!). Oh, and clear nail polish may have even HIGHER LEVELS that colored–so don’t think you’re off the hook just because you like the natural look.

A metabolite of TPHP, which also serves as a flame retardant in furniture and plastics manufacturing, was found in abnormally high levels in the bloodstream of every volunteer in a recent study performed by Duke University scientists. (Duke University 2015) Briefly after applying the nail polish for the study, the urine levels of that chemical’s metabolite increased sharply in every single woman tested.

Now I know what you’re thinking–nails? Are they sort of, well….protective? I mean, nails aren’t as permeable as, say, skin–right? And that little bit of polish on that little part of your body caused such a big increase? How? The scientists theorize that the presence of solvents like toluene in the nail polish increase the permeability of the nail, allowing the TPHP to enter. They also suspect that the capillaries in the cuticle allow faster absorption into the body. And those of us who have little kids know, children usually ‘miss the mark’ when painting their nails, and end up painting a large portion of their fingers too. And their hands. And the couch.

Remember people, this stuff is DANGEROUS. Even a small amount entering your body is NO GOOD. Would you say to your kid “oh, sure, honey, what’s the harm? Everything in moderation!” if he or she suggested using just a wee bit of anti-freeze in their bubble bath? Huh- I didn’t think so. <insert smart ass emoticon here>

TPHP is an endocrine disrupter, much like #2 on our list, dibutyl phthaltes. Dibutyl phthaltes are found less frequently in nail polish since the public wised up to their danger (but note that they’re still present in many common household cleaners as I discussed a few weeks ago) Ever so kindly, nail polish manufacturers replaced it with–you guessed it, another endocrine disruptor, TPHP. Wasn’t that thoughtful of them?  SO. VERY. THOUGHTFUL!toxins in nail polish

My guess? The nail polish manufacturers are banking on the public not being informed, and not knowing what TPHP is–at least for a while anyway. But those sneaky bastards have another thing coming — I’m gonna inform the hell out of you here at Eco-friendly Girl 🙂

So what’s the big deal about endocrine disruptors?

Accordng to the NIH, endocrine disruptors “are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife… Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products– including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides.”  By mimicking natural hormones, endocrine disruptors can alter the hormone levels of the body as well as their normal production. . The NIH suspects that the increasing prevalance of endocrine disruptors in our lives has affected fertility levels, increased cancer rates and contributed to the rise in endometriosis in women. 

Okay, so what can you do as a consumer? First off, check this list to to see if your nail polish is on it. If it is, bring it to your local hazardous waste plant for disposal. (I know you think I’m kidding–but the EPA classifies nail polish as a hazardous waste and requires proper disposal of it–really!)

And definitely don’t let your kids play with it! We know how kids end up painting not just their nails but half their finger with nail polish–so really, get it out of your house.

Next step, sign the petition urging these beauty companies to get rid of TPHP.

Finally, look out for brands that do NOT contain these nasty ingredients. A movement is afoot called the 5-Free label. If you see 5-free on your bottle of nail polish, it should not contain any of the top 5 nasty ingredients.

My research has turned up a few brands that I trust (and remember, if you like going to a nail salon to get your nails done, you are free to bring a bottle of one of these with you–they won’t bat an eye if you do).

Non Toxic Nail Polish Brands

Piggy Paint (prices vary between $8 and $15. Free Prime Shipping) If you have kids and they love painting their nails, this is the best choice. It was created by a mother with two nail polish obsessed daughters. The colors are adorable, and they are made in the USA.


Acquarella ($16 plus free shipping) This brand is great–it gets a 1 out of 10 on the ‘gross horrible ingredients scale” at EWG (no, it’s not really called that). making it my number one choice if you’re buying for yourself rather than your kids.



Ella and Mila Nail Polish ($10.50 plus free shipping). This company has a lot of really nice colors, and is made in America. Completely toxin free, and endorsed by PETA. Bonus!



Please keep in mind too that nail polish remover is not exactly eco-friendly.  But that’s another topic for another day 🙂 Come visit again soon!

Post Author: Hillary

5 thoughts on “Is Nail Polish Safe for Kids?


    (May 23, 2016 - 6:55 am)

    I knew that nail polish wasn’t exactly toxin free but i’m still shocked after reading this. 😮 It really makes me worried about all the people around me using nail polish.. You really do important work with your site educating people about all toxic dangers lurking around in our everyday objects and foods and stuff.


    (May 26, 2016 - 10:28 am)

    Hi! I really like to paint my nails with different colour, so I have been avoided this fact for a long time ha! No that you mentioned it again it does make me worried. If I still want my nails to be pretty, does doing gel nails better?


    (May 30, 2016 - 10:55 pm)

    Hi Hilary,
    I love this article and you are very correct. I, myself use Bio Gel Nail Polish, which is free from Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin and Camphor. It is also not tested on animals.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


      (May 31, 2016 - 2:29 am)

      I am so glad you posted, and glad to hear you use non-toxic nail polish–nail art is so pretty!!

    A Little Bit of Cheek

    (November 23, 2016 - 3:40 am)

    We have a great range of kid friendly nail polish called Ella + Mila Me. It comes in 15 cool colours without all the nasty chemicals 🙂

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