Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Is Nail Polish Safe for Little Kids? Is It Safe for Their Moms?

I have a little boy munchkin,  and so was not aware of just how popular manicures and pedicures are in the little girl munchkin world! That is, until recently, when a friend of mine asked me what I thought about a nail polish she bought for her 3 year old who has discovered the fun colorful world of painting her nails.  

As I began to research her nail polish I realized just how big a market the under 10 age group is for nail polish makers.  Girly spas are common for little girls and spa birthday party themes are gaining more popularity.

So: Is nail polish safe for little kids? Is it safe for their moms?

The answer: it depends on what nail polish you are using. 

Traditional nail polish can contain a 'toxic trio' of chemicals: toluene, BPD and formaldehyde, obviously not a healthy thing for little girls (especially those who bite their nails or suck their thumbs) to have on their nails. 

  • Use: Helps nail polish go on smoothly and adhere evenly to the nail. Also used in gasoline fuels. 
  • Named a developmental toxin by the State of California
  • It has been associated with neurological side effects such as dizziness, memory loss and naussea.  It can also affect the central nervous system causing dizziness, fatigue, fainting.  It is considered a possible reproductive toxin.
  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) human studies have found “minor craniofacial and limb anomalies, in the children of pregnant women exposed to toluene by inhalation....an association between exposure to toluene and an increased incidence of spontaneous abortions, have also been noted.  “

dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
  • This particular phthalate reduces polish brittleness and cracking
  • Has been banned from nail products in the European Union and is considered a powerful developmental toxin by the state of California
  • Is especially dangerous for pregnant women since it has been associated with reproductive harm and underdeveloped genitals in baby boys. 
  • There is contradicting information about whether or not formaldehyde is really found in nail products.   The conclusion seems to to be that it is found in small quantities in nail hardeners not nail polish.
  • Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen. It is also an irritant to the eyes, nose and throat, and can lead to skin irritation and an allergic rash called dermatitis.

Lucky for us many mainstream nail polishes now claim to be free of all three of these toxic chemicals, including  handful of those polishes marketed towards little girls. 

 Unfortunately, a recent study by California’s Department of Toxic Substances found that many nail polishes that claim to be free of toxic chemicals actually had high levels of these chemicals in their polishes!

Investigators randomly chose 25 brands of polishes that are available only at nail salons, including a number of products claiming to be free of the 'toxic trio'
  •  10 of 12 products that claimed to be free of toluene actually contained it, with four of the products having dangerously high levels.
  • 5 of 7 products that claimed to be "free of the toxic three" actually included one or more of the chemicals in significant levels.
 (the polishes studied are only available at nail salons and include:  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. )

After reading about this study I took a second look at 'piggy paint,' the nail polish my friend had purchased for her daughter.   The company’s website, and most of the 'eco' blogs that mention it, rave about it being completely non-toxic and 'as natural as mud".  One reputable non toxic website claimed it had the best rating for non toxic items -a 1- on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database... And yet it was no longer listed.

 More research and it turns out that the new formulation of Piggy Paint will contain methylisothiazolinone, also known as Neolone 950, a chemical preservative. MIT is known to cause skin sensitivities and in-vitro tests showed neurotoxic effects on mammalian cells.  This preservative is restricted for use in Canada and Japan and safety is not fully established for use in human products.  Ironically it is a preservative used to replace parabens which are known endocrine disruptors (mimick estrogen an have been associated with cancer among other things).


So what is a parent with  a manicure loving daughter (and no access to a chemical laboratory) to do? The reality is that all of these water based polishes, even Piggy Paint, are much better options than conventional nail polishes that have toluene or DBP... But since, as apparent in the California study, we can’t always trust company’s claims of what is or is not in their products the best thing is to follow these guidelines....

  1. If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant:  EWG attributes the prevalence of DBP in young women to widespread use of nail polish. “Women of childbearing age should avoid all exposure to DBP when they’re considering becoming pregnant, when they’re pregnant, or when they’re nursing,” says Jane Houlihan, EWG’s Vice President for Research.  So avoid when you can.
  2. Look for less-toxic brands and formulations of nail polishes and treatments in the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database (some options:  Acquarella Nail Polish,  Honeybee Gardens, Wet 'N Wild Wild Shine Nail Color, No Chip Top Coat,  L'Oréal Pro Manicure Nail Polish, Top Coat and some of OPI’s nail polishes all rate 3 or under) 
  •  Bring your own polish to the salon.
  • Make sure your nail salon is properly ventilated
  • Seek out ‘green’ nail salons
  • Skip the mani and just get a pedi
  • Try buffing nails instead of lacquering
      4. WITH KIDS
  • Limit polish use by children; but once in a while is fine!
  • Focus on pedicures and skip the manicure
  • Choose water based nail color
      5.  Always apply and remove polish in a well-ventilated area.

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