Welcome back to Freak-Out Fridays, where health experts weigh in on just how worried you should be about health threats in the modern world. Struggling with your own quandary? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I’m constantly switching up my nail color—which means I’m wiping them with acetone-based remover. Are the smelly chemicals harming my health?
A: I have to admit, my toes haven’t seen the natural light of day for more than two minutes at a time in more than a decade. So even I am having a bad case of “cosmetic conflict!”
Acetone, which is often the main solvent in nail polish remover, has been known to cause nose, throat and eye irritation, headaches, confusion, nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness, and possibly coma, and shortening of the menstrual cycle. Toluene, another solvent in some nail polish removers, can cause tiredness, weakness, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite, and hearing and color vision loss. In high levels, it may even cause birth defects in children.
There are steps you can take to reduce overall exposure when it comes to the potential harm of chemical cosmetic conflicts and nail beauty:
- Utilize the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic database, Skin Deep, as a resource to understand the quality of your nail polish removers (and other beauty products).
- If your remover comes with a Material Safety Data Sheet (a form from the manufacturer on forms that provide safety guidelines use of its ingredients), read it carefully.
- Look for removers with gentle, nontoxic ingredients. Recent research has identified improved polishes and removers from Honeybee Gardens, en Vouge Sculptured Nail Systems, and Sante Kosmetic. The Skin Deep database lists many more that get a thumbs-up for safe ingredients.
- Wear a paper face mask each time you wipe and swipe your nails.
- Make sure you are working in a well-ventilated area.
Dr. Holly Lucille, a.k.a. “Dr. Holly,” is a nationally recognized health expert. She is a licensed naturopathic doctor and registered nurse, specializing in comprehensive health solutions using compassion and empowerment. Dr. Holly was nationally recognized on TIME’s Alt List “Top 100 Most Influential People” in 2007.