Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved painting my fingernails. And as an adult, I often treat myself to professional manicures and pedicures at one of the ubiquitous nail salons in Charlotte.
So, I was distressed to read that researchers have found evidence of a potentially dangerous chemical in the bodies of nail polish-wearing woman who participated in their study.
The chemical – triphenyl phosphate or TPHP – is contained in about 1,500 nail products, including polishes by Sally Hansen, OPI and Wet N Wild, according to the Environmental Working Group, which worked with Duke University on the study.
In animal studies, TPHP has been found to be an “endocrine disrupter,” meaning it can interfere with reproduction when absorbed at high levels, said Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist at Duke.
That raises concerns about the potential health effects for women, said Stapleton, principal investigator for the study published in the journal Environment International.
Until recently, Stapleton had no idea TPHP was used in nail polish. It is typically used in plastics manufacturing and as a fire retardant in foam furniture. In nail polish, it probably functions as a plasticizer, making the polish more flexible and durable, she said.
Stapleton suspects manufacturers are using TPHP to replace dibutyl phthalate, one of three chemicals – the others are toluene and formaldehyde – that have been removed from most nail polishes in recent years.
You’ve probably seen the label “3-Free” on some nail polish bottles – even though you can’t read the ingredients lists without a magnifying glass. “3-Free” refers to the removal of those three chemicals since 2004, when the European Union first banned them from cosmetics due to suspected health risks.
In the recent study, Stapleton first tested 16 women, asking them to remove their nail polish and wait for several days before taking urine samples. The researchers tested urine samples again after having the women apply nail polish. For everyone, the presence of TPHP went up, Stapleton said.
But she didn’t know if they were inhaling it or whether it was being absorbed through their skin.
In a second, more involved study, researchers tested the urine of 10 women before and after applying nail polish. Then in a third test, they gave urine samples after donning gloves and applying polish to fake nails on the gloves.
In the latter case, there was no absorption, Stapleton said. So the chemical was clearly being absorbed through the nails and the skin.
So, what should we do?
“I think that’s a personal decision,” Stapleton said. “.…What this means in terms of health risk, we don’t know yet.”
So I asked her: Do you wear polish?
“I do not. I never have.”
To check your polish
Go to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep homepage: www.ewg.org/skindeep.
Type “triphenyl phosphate” in the search box to find which products contain this chemical.
Click on the ingredient name to be moved to the landing page for “triphenyl phosphate.”
Click on the word “Products” at the left to get a list of 1,352 nail polishes and 39 nail treatments containing THTP.