|Study finds hazardous chemicals in some nail polish|
by Erin Allday, San Francisco Chronicle
April 11th, 2012
Nail polishes that claim to be free of harsh chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and fertility problems may contain the hazardous ingredients anyway, according to a state study released Tuesday.
A small sample of 25 nail polishes distributed to Bay Area salons found that some products labeled as "three-free" - meaning they did not contain the three chemicals most commonly associated with negative health effects - often had at least trace amounts of one of the hazardous substances.
In fact, products that claimed to be free of the "toxic trio" of hazardous chemicals - toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde - were actually more likely to contain those ingredients than products that made no such claims.
The findings disappointed state and local environmental regulators and angered the growing number of nail salon owners who are trying to seek out the safest products for their customers and employees.
"If the products say something on their label, it should be truthful," said Tina Bui, who has owned Tina's Nails in San Rafael for 13 years.
She's been taking classes to learn how to keep her salon environmentally safe and healthy, and she said she makes an effort to use products that are free of the "toxic trio." It's upsetting, she said, that her efforts may be pointless.
"I love my job, and I want to be doing this a lot longer. But I want to be in a safe place to work," Bui said. "I don't know much about chemicals, but I can tell there are unsafe chemicals in these products."
The nail products report was put together by the California Environmental Protection Agency's Department of Toxic Substances Control, in collaboration with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
San Francisco participated in the study in part because the city plans to launch a program this summer to encourage its roughly 200 nail salons to adopt practices that are safer for customers and employees. In addition to installing proper ventilation units and making employees wear gloves and masks to protect themselves from dangerous fumes, nail salon owners are being urged to use only polishes that don't contain the "toxic trio," according to city environmental officials.
"We're trying to train nail technicians on safer practices. But we're all dependent on good information from product labels," said Sushma Bhatia, toxics reduction program manager for the San Francisco Environment Department.
The toxic trio
The report focused on three substances that are considered especially dangerous additions to nail polishes.
Formaldehyde, which is used as a preservative in nail polish, is known to cause cancer, asthma and skin problems in large enough doses, according to the state toxic substance department. Toluene, which helps create a smooth look and clear colors in polishes, can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and short-term memory loss, and it can harm fetuses and cause miscarriages. Dibutyl phthalate, which gives polishes a hard but flexible finish, has been associated with reproductive problems and birth defects even in very low doses.
The chemicals are either banned or highly limited in Europe. They are legal in the United States, but they must be included on the ingredient list on nail polish labels.
State environmental investigators said Tuesday that their report will be forwarded to authorities in the state public health and attorney general offices to determine if action should be taken against the nail polish manufacturers who appear to have made false claims.
"We want to see the (nail polish manufacturing) industry take some leadership and responsibility in this," said Karl Palmer, chief of toxics in products for the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. "People want safer products, they want greener products."
Of the 25 products in the study, seven claimed to be free of all three of the toxic chemicals, but five had detectable levels of them.
None of the 25 nail polishes had detectable levels of formaldehyde, although researchers said that may have been due to the type of testing done and is not necessarily proof that the substance is missing. Seven of the polishes were free of toluene and DBP - but nine contained both chemicals, and another nine had at least trace amounts of one of the chemicals.
The state report looked at products that are only available for purchase at nail salons, but investigators said it's likely that they would find similar results in polishes that consumers can buy at any drugstore or online.
The Nail Manufacturers Council, an industry group, responded to the report by stressing that the small sample size is not representative of the larger industry, and suggesting that nail polishes are, on the whole, safe for consumers and workers.
The council agreed that nail polish manufacturers should be labeling their products correctly, but also noted that the amounts of hazardous chemicals found in the state study were low - less than 1 percent - in many cases.
But Hue Nguyen, at least, would like to see even that small amount of toxic substances removed from all nail polishes and other products. At 58, she's worked in a San Leandro nail salon for eight years - staying at her job even after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008.
She doesn't know if her cancer came from repeatedly being exposed to nail polish fumes, "but in the back of everyone's mind, we always know cancer is a possibility," she said Tuesday through a Vietnamese translator.
"Almost everyone I know has some symptoms - dizziness, runny nose, headache. Some people have skin rashes that never clear up," Nguyen said. "I hope that these toxic chemicals will be removed."
Hazardous nail polish
The nail products that claimed to be free of toxic chemicals but in fact had at least trace levels of hazardous chemicals included the following:
Station 99 basecoat (made by Miss Professional Nail Products)
Dare to Wear nail lacquer (made by LeChat Nail Care Products)
Chelseu 650 Baby's Breath nail lacquer (made by Miss Professional Nail Products)
New York Summer nail color (made by Miss Professional Nail Products)
Paris Spicy 298 nail lacquer (made by Mirage Corp.)
Station 53 Red Pink nail color (made by Miss Professional Nail Products)
Poshe fast-drying basecoat (made by Poshe Almell Products)
Orly Flagstone Rush nail lacquer (made by Orli International)
Nail Art Stripper Brush #117 Magenta Glitter (made by Omega Labs USA)
The nail products that were found to be toxic-free included:
CM (Color Madnic) Luscious nail lacquer (made by LeChat R&D)
Zoya Professional nail lacquer (made by Art of Beauty Systems)
Birthday Babe nail lacquer (made by OPI Products)
Nail polish thinner (made by Cali Beauty Supply)
Essie 596 Starter Wife nail lacquer (made by Essie Cosmetics)
Out the Door topcoat (made by International Nail Manufacturers)