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'Chemical-free' nail varnishes contain toxins linked to infertility and even cancer

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'Chemical-free' nail varnishes contain toxins linked to infertility and even cancer

  • '3-Free' polishes are without the 'toxic trio' - DnBP, toluene and formaldehyde
  • But they still contain toxins linked to brain toxicity and foetal abnormalities
  • EU banned certain chemicals from cosmetics, which were replaced by others 

By Alexandra Thompson Senior Health Reporter For Mailonline

Published: 08:00 EDT, 10 October 2018 | Updated: 08:21 EDT, 10 October 2018

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'Chemical-free' nail varnishes can contain toxic compounds that have been linked to everything from infertility to cancer, research suggests.

'3-Free' polishes that claim to be void of the 'toxic trio' - DnBP, toluene and formaldehyde - often still contain ingredients linked to brain toxicity and even foetal abnormalities, a Harvard study found today.

Although the EU banned many chemicals from being used in cosmetics in 2004, scientists argue this led to 'regrettable substitution' - where one toxin is replaced by another.

These chemicals are also often still used in the US, where cosmetics are allowed to go to market before they are tested for safety.  

'Chemical-free' nail varnishes can contain toxic compounds that have been linked to everything from infertility to cancer, Harvard research suggests (stock)
'Chemical-free' nail varnishes can contain toxic compounds that have been linked to everything from infertility to cancer, Harvard research suggests (stock)

'Chemical-free' nail varnishes can contain toxic compounds that have been linked to everything from infertility to cancer, Harvard research suggests (stock)

The researchers examined 40 different nail varnishes that were available at two leading online beauty stores, three Greater Boston beauty suppliers and eight local nail salons between July 2016 and March 2018.

These polishes were made up of red and pink shades - the most popular colours; metallic, shimmery and glitter coats; and a clear top coat. 

Since the introduction of '3-Free' varnishes in around 2006, the trend has spread, with many polishes claiming to be '5-Free', '7-Free', '10-Free' and even '13-Free'. 

The 40 varnishes were manufactured by 12 brands in total, which were not named in the study.

Examples may have included butter London, which started out as '3-Free' and is now '8-Free'; '5-Free' Autograph at M&S; and Margaret Dabbs' '3-Free'.

For each of the polishes analysed, the scientists, led by Dr Anna Young, noted the online descriptions of their ingredients and labels.  

And the results suggest not all 'toxic free' nail polishes are necessarily void of chemicals.

For instance, the hormone disruptor TPHP was found in six of the 10 '10-Free' brands.

Hormone disrupting chemicals have been linked to conditions such as infertility, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome and even certain cancers, like breast.

THPH was added to around half of nail polishes after DnBP was banned in the EU in 2004.

Although the study did not list the 40 nail polishes and 12 brands analysed, they may have included butter London, which started as being '3-Free' and is now '8-Free' 
Although the study did not list the 40 nail polishes and 12 brands analysed, they may have included butter London, which started as being '3-Free' and is now '8-Free' 

Although the study did not list the 40 nail polishes and 12 brands analysed, they may have included butter London, which started as being '3-Free' and is now '8-Free' 

It is thought to prevent chipping and maintain a varnish's colour.

Results, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, further suggested phthalates were present in nine of the 10 '10-Free' brands analysed.

Phthalates are also hormone disruptors and have been linked to genital malformations in baby boys. 

The hormone-disrupting chemical DEHP was also in 60 per cent of all of the samples.

DEHP is associated with infertility and is considered possibly cancer-causing to humans.

It has been found to persist in indoor environments for years even with ventilation, which may put nail salon workers at risk, the researchers warn.

Other 'Free' polishes, which included '5-Free' and '7-Free', included chemicals like lead and fragrance. 

Lead exposure has been linked to vomiting, hearing loss and learning difficulties in children.  

The FDA allows phthalates to be listed as 'fragrance' due to trade secret concerns.  

Although the FDA regulates cosmetics, it does not require products to be approved for safety before they enter the market. 

Labeling and advertising claims like '3-Free' or 'non toxic' also do not need to be approved by the FDA or the Federal Trade Commission. 

'With little standardisation or validation of the claims, it's challenging for consumers and nail salon workers to know what these labels really mean for health,' Dr Young said.

'It's not as simple as what substances aren't in nail polish; we have to address harmful chemicals still present or added as substitutes.'

The scientists wrote 'nail polish labels would benefit from standardization and validation by a third unbiased party.

'Certified labels could be useful tools for educating nail polish users, nail salon owners, and nail salon workers about toxic chemicals and how to make best purchasing decisions'.

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