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Your Non-Toxic Manicure

Your Non-Toxic Manicure

I’m not the best when it comes to being a “girl”. I’m a minimalist when it comes to jewelry, I never have my nails painted, I hate carrying purses and I rarely make a point to do my hair. With that said, there’s a certain feeling that comes along with primping yourself and getting yourself dolled up. Every now and then I get a strong urge to polish up my paws, until I’m reminded of the costly health effects that coincide with conventional nail polish and nail salons.

Until about 3 years ago, I was quite dedicated to keeping up with my shellac manicures. That changed when I was unexpectedly greeted by my first experience with a nail fungus (yup, not so cute). You see, when we get into the habit of constantly having our nails painted or leaving nail polish on for too long, the pigment in the nail polish soaks into the top few layers of the nail and dries it out. This allows things like yeast, bacteria, mold and mildew to develop underneath the nail polish. Just like our skin, our nails are very permeable, even more so than our skin, and anything we put on it gets absorbed into it. Have you ever looked at the ingredients on a nail polish bottle?

The Toxic Trio

1. Formaldehyde – You know, that ingredient that is used to preserve bodies when they’ve passed? Yeah, that stuff is hiding in your nail polish. It’s also a known carcinogen according to The International Agency for Research on Cancer?

2. DBP (Dibutyl Phthalate) –  DBP is added as a plasticizer to keep polishes from chipping and to extend the “wear time”, but is also a known endocrine disruptor. Phthalates mimic the estrogen hormone in the body and have been linked to things like impaired fetal development in pregnant women, organ damage and early onset menopause. Health Canada has actually banned the use of six phthalates (including DBP) in soft vinyl children’s toys (knowing that children usually have their mouths and slobber all over them) but they haven’t quite figured out the impact of having phthalates in cosmetics, much of which is absorbed through our skin and directly into our bloodstream.

3. Toluene – This toxic ingredient is responsible for giving you that smooth finish you know and love. The cost of this is that inhalation of toluene alone can affect Central Nervous System activity, causing drowsiness and headaches. Now it all makes sense why I feel like I’m about to pass out when I go into nail salons.

Now this doesn’t mean you have to abandon your beloved girly dates at the salon and be a bare-naked nail princess forever. It just means we have to be smarter when it comes to choosing nail polishes and the nail salons we go to.

What To Look For

We definitely want to steer clear of the 3 ingredients mentioned above and thankfully, there’s an easy way to do this now. Nail Polishes containing the label 3-Free infer that the nail polish does not contain the toxic trio of ingredients mentioned above. If you want to take it a step further, you can also look out for 5-Free or 7-Free nail polishes as well. 5-Free suggests that it does not contain the 3 ingredients mentioned above, in addition to Formaldehyde Resin (a common allergen) and Camphor (the ugly ingredient that can cause your nails to turn yellow and dry out). 7-Free suggests that it is free of all of the toxic ingredients mentioned so far, in addition to Ethyl Tosylamide and Andxylene.

For those with more of an elaborate nail polish collection, I know this is a bit heartbreaking, but just like anything in the health world, I always encourage people to do the best you can and take it one step at a time. Maybe it’s having every other manicure/pedicure done with a non-toxic 3, 5 or 7-Free Nail Polish until you’re ready to jump full on into the non-toxic world. You would still be reducing your toxic exposure drastically!

Sourcing Non-Toxic Nail Polish Brands and Nail Salons

It can be tricky at first to navigate yourself around this when you were so used to just hopping to your local Shopper’s Drug Mart or Sephora and picking up the hottest colour.

A good place to start is to download the Think Dirty App on your phone. This allows you to insert the name of the product you’re using or seeking out and view it’s rating on the clean beauty scale. A rating from 0-3 means there is insufficient or no known evidence to suggest that the product is harmful, 4-7 implies that there is moderate and inconclusive evidence that the ingredient have moderate health impacts and 8-10 infers that there is strong and conclusive evidence to show that the ingredients have long-term health impacts and that they should definitely be avoided at all costs.


Some brands that I know and love that are around the 0-3 mark include: Treat, Priti NYC and RGB. Most of these can be found at The Detox Market online or at their stores in Toronto or LA. While there aren’t too many salons that have gone full-on in their clean beauty regime yet, there are a good handful that you can turn to, including Alma Natural Spa and Rinse Beauty Bar. Word on the street is that Her Majesty’s Pleasure also carries a non-toxic polish so you can get your non-toxic manicure/pedicure there as well while you sip champagne and gab with your gal pal, but please note that not all of their polishes are non-toxic or 3, 5, or 7-Free.

Do you have any favourite non-toxic 3, 5 or 7-Free polishes that you use? Leave the brand name and colour below in the comments!

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