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Even Nail Polishes Labeled "Natural" May Not Be

by Dan ShapleyThe Daily Green
April 11th, 2012

Many popular nail polishes contain the so-called "toxic trio" of chemicals: dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene and formaldehyde.

While consumers seeking to avoid these chemicals may know that nail polishes often don't list them as ingredients, a startling study from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control finds that even many brands that claim to be "three free" contain harmful substances.

"When nail care products claim to be free of unsafe chemicals, despite how the label reads, just the opposite is often true," the report finds, noting that the greatest concern is not for women wearing nail polish but salon workers repeatedly applying nail-care products to customers for hours a day, day after day. DBP and toluene are known to the State of California as developmental toxins. Formaldehyde is recognized as a carcinogen by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The study looked at a limited number of products, 25 products in six categories, used in salons in the San Francisco Bay area. Of the 25, 12 claimed to be free of at least one of the suspect chemicals, and seven claimed to be free of all three.

Only two of the products claiming to be free of all three substances had their claims substantiated by testing. Incredibly, toluene was found in greater concentrations in products claiming to be free of harmful substances than in those that made no claims. And 10 of 12 products that claimed to be free of toluene in fact tested positive.

The agency was joined by a chorus of advocacy groups calling on the beauty industry to disclose their product formulations so the public can make informed choices about the products they choose to use. The agency also called for better education of salon workers and owners, who are at most risk of exposure.

"Consumers have had it with the current system that tolerates cosmetics companies outright lying to consumers, putting dangerous chemicals in our products, and getting away with it," said Lisa Archer, director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund. "Itís clearer than ever that we need to overhaul our countryís outdated and broken cosmetics laws to protect workers and all of us."