Toxins Found in Nail Polishes Claiming to Be ‘Non-Toxic’

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Nail polish manufacturers are under the heat lamp after chemical regulators in California found that many polishes claiming to be free of a “toxic trio” of chemicals actually contained high levels of the toxins.

State investigators from the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) randomly sampled 25 brands of polish, which are commonly used in more than 48,000 nail salons in California. These included several polishes claiming to be free of three dangerous toxins: toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde — all of which have been linked to health problems ranging from asthma to cancer, the DTSC reports.

The DTSC’s testing found that 10 of 12 products claiming to be free of toluene actually contained it, and four of the brands had dangerously high levels. Five of seven products claiming to be “free of the toxic three” included high levels of one or more of the chemicals.

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The DTSC released a report on Tuesday with its findings and concluded that exposure to the chemicals is a health hazard to nail salon workers and their customers. About 121,000 people work in nail salons in California, and could be at risk.

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

Using the chemicals is not illegal if the products are properly labeled. However, many of the products tested were not labeled and even claimed to be free of the toxins. This could be a violation of California’s state law, Proposition 65, which requires manufacturers to disclose all chemicals in consumer products.

“It is just disheartening, distressing and disturbing as a consumer and a regulator,” Debbie Raphael, director of the DTSC told the Los Angeles Times. “The question that we want to engage industry in is, is it necessary to use these chemicals?” Raphael said manufacturers and regulators need to find safer alternatives.

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According to the report, the unlabeled products were: 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 DTSC does not have estimates of how many people are being exposed to the chemicals through the products. The state attorney general’s office will make a final decision regarding whether the nail polish companies will face legal action, which could include fines and required warning labels, the AP reports.

“This is a perfect example why we need to reform federal cosmetics laws to ban chemicals like dibutyl phthalate, which Europe did almost 10 years ago,” says Campaign for Safe Cosmetics co-founder Stacy Malkan. “We’re so pleased with the California DTSC for standing up for the health of nail salon workers and their customers.”

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