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26th May 2015

Are nail polish chemicals causing fertility problems for salon workers?

Katie Mythen-Lynch

From chip-resistant to high-gloss, the added benefits we look for in our weekly manicures are ever changing, but a growing body of medical research suggests that the chemicals used to produce the glamorous results we crave might be causing serious health problems. 

And manicurists, the people who touch all these formulas and breathe in the toxic fumes in poorly ventilated salons every day, are most at risk.

While research is limited, Dr Thu Quach, of Stanford University and the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, warns that exposure to some of the controversial chemicals contained in many popular cosmetics could cause pregnancy complications, low birth weight and pre-term deliveries.

Writing for The Conversation, Dr Quach said nail care products contain, in varying amounts, many toxic and potentially hazardous ingredients:

“Chemical ingredients in them range from cancer-causing compounds such as formaldehyde to others that disrupt hormones.”

Three chemicals of high concerns are toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate – nicknamed the ‘toxic trio’ because of their serious health impacts.

Toluene can affect the central nervous system and cause reproductive issues, while exposure to dibutyl phthalate, added to polishes to provide flexibility, has also been linked to reproductive problems.

“Nail salon workers pay a huge price in the form of their health.” says Dr Quach.

“Exposure to nail care products with harmful chemicals can result in a number of health effects, ranging from skin irritations, eye injuries and allergic reactions.

‘They also have thinking and memory problems, neurological symptoms, nausea, respiratory problems, cancer and uncontrollable muscle contractions to impaired reproductive and development processes.”

In this video, Dr Quach discusses her research to date.