Why I Stopped Getting Manicures

by Ann Marie Michaels on July 20, 2010

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A new video by Robert Greenwald exposes how dangerous it is to have manicures and pedicures. I like this video because it shows that toxic ingredients used in manicures and pedicures not only affect us, the customers, but more importantly, the people working in these salons who are exposed to these toxic chemicals day after day.

Nail salons in California have tripled in the past two decades. 95% of the workers in nail salons are women, and 80% of them are Vietnamese. (Source: Breast Cancer Risk in California Nail Salon Workers)

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not contribute to someone else’s breast cancer just so I can have pretty pink toenails. :-(

And it’s not just the workers who get sick. It’s us. When you do a little research you find that getting your nails done is a health hazard.

Toxic Chemicals

The video outlines the “toxic trio” of chemicals used at nail salons and in nail products:

  • Formaldehyde – used in disinfectants causes cancer and asthma
  • Toluene – used in nail polish; affects short-term memory and is toxic to developing fetus
  • Phtalates – used in nail polish; reproductive dangers/birth defects

Of course, these are just a few. There are many other very toxic chemicals used in manicures and pedicures.

How We Get Exposed to Chemicals

Of concern are the fumes you breathe in, but we also need to remember that chemicals are also absorbed through the skin’s pores. It’s funny to me that we know nicotine patches work, and yet we don’t think anything of painting carcinogenic nail polish onto our nails.

According to former manicurist, Sheila Mossberg:

Every time you have a manicure, your nails and the skin or your arms and hands are taking on and absorbing these toxic chemicals and they are being stored in your body’s fatty tissues… (Source: Nontoxique Beauty Blog)

If you don’t buy the idea that nail polish can be absorbed into the blood stream, read this by the Environmental Working Group:

If the DBP (dibutyl phthalate) stayed intact in the polish, women might absorb negligible amounts of the chemical into their bodies. But a group of scientists in Hamburg, Germany showed that water-soluble components of the polish, like DBP, are dissolved out of the polish each time they contact water, a conclusion they reached after measuring the leaching of DBP from nail polish that had dried for three days.

In fact, one of the reasons nail polish eventually chips is that it becomes brittle as DBP is leached out of the film. This means that every time a woman washes her hands, DBP is washed out of her nail polish and contacts her skin. The scientists conclude that “water-soluble components… attain the skin during extensive but transient contact.” Therefore, a woman wearing nail polish not only can absorb DBP through her nail, but also has multiple opportunities to absorb DBP directly through her skin.

Is It Really That Bad?

Some may say I’m overreacting. For example, here’s a quote from a law firm’s website:

People talk about 50,000 parts per million of a phthalate in nail polish being typical of the amount found. It may sound like a lot. It’s five percent. Yet if a woman used and absorbed all of the dibutyl phthalate from five – 5 – full bottles of nail polish every day, her exposure would still be about equal to a level that produced no effects in laboratory animals.

What this hypothetical example doesn’t take into account is that those lab rats are not being exposed to phthalates in other products as well. In reality, most beauty and personal care products contain phthalates. In 2002, a phthalates report was released that showed that three quarters of off-the-shelf beauty products contained phthalates — but they were not listed on the label. (Source: Breast Cancer Risk in California Nail Salon Workers)

Besides that, what do they mean when they say “no effects in laboratory animals”? OK, so they didn’t die. Maybe they didn’t develop huge, obvious tumors. But how do we know what happened to them? How long did they study them? I may not have a tumor now, but what about next year or the year after?

Oh, and by the way, if you read the fine print on that law firm website, it says, “Information courtesy of phthalates.com.” Gee, I wonder who runs phthalates.com?

Oh, right, the European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates (ECPI). Chemical corporations. Well, of course they think it’s safe!

The thing is, all the chemicals we consume via the air, our skin, our food, do end up in our bodies. As Sheila Mossberg said above, these chemicals get stored in our fatty tissue. Like our breasts.

Personally, I’d like to avoid breast cancer. So I’m steering clear of nail polish.

Safe Alternatives

If you really want to get your nails done, there are some safe options. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics:

Several companies … make nail polishes, treatments and removers without harmful chemicals… So you don’t have to give up your mani-pedi visits, just BYOP (Bring Your Own Polish) the next time you go!

Here are some sources for truly non-toxic nail polish (1-3 hazard score on the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database):

Honeybee Gardens
Suncoat Products
Acquarella Nail Polish

This post is part of Monday Mania at the Healthy Home Economist.

Disclosure: cmp.ly/4 and cmp.ly/5

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