What Ingredients in Nail Polish Are Harmful to Pregnant Women?

Toxic chemical ingredients in nail polish are dangerous to pregnant women because they can be absorbed through the nails, enter the blood stream and harm the developing fetus. According to the Consumer Affairs website, studies warning about the dangers to babies in the womb from chemicals continue to rise. The main ingredients of concern in nail polish include toluene, formaldehyde and phthalates.


Toluene is a natural product found in the tulu tree, which is native to northern South America. Toluene is a main ingredient used as a solvent in most nail polish. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website, toluene exposure can occur through breathing contaminated air in a work area, from automobile exhaust, paint thinners and lacquers. This clear, colorless, chemical has a distinct odor and is harmful to the nervous system. Pregnant women exposed to high levels of toluene can see birth defects to the fetus as well as slow growth and slow mental development.


Formaldehyde is a chemical component of nail polish and a carcinogenic impurity released from a variety of cosmetic preservatives 2. According to Cosmetics Data Base website, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel does not consider formaldehyde safe for use in aerosol products and recommends that cosmetic products should contain no more than 0.2 percent of formaldehyde 2. Today, the major cosmetic manufacturers are voluntarily removing formaldehyde from their nail products because of consumer pressure 2. However, in the United States there are no regulatory actions being taken regarding the use of formaldehyde in body care products.


Phthalates are a group of chemicals that includes dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylpthtalate (DMP) and diethylpththalate (DEP). Those chemicals are used in cosmetic products. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), phthalates are used in a variety of products, including toys, food packages, vinyl flooring and other personal care products, including nail polish. According to the FDA, if there are any effects of phththalates on health, they are unclear.

CDC Report

In a report on March 21, 2001, titled, “National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals,” released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elevated levels of phththalates were found to be excreted by women of child-bearing age. However, both the CDC and the FDA data review did not link any association with the use of phthalates in cosmetics products as a health risk. The FDA continues to monitor the potential risks to consumers from the use of cosmetic products.

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