Nailing It

by Celia Shatzman

If you’ve ever read the ingredient list for traditional nail polish, it can get scary fast.

All those chemical names that you can’t pronounce can do some serious damage. “Nails are very porous, especially when wet,” says Gabriel De Santino, founder of Gabriel Cosmetics. “We are also exposed to toxins from polish when we rub our eyes or bite our nails. In general, we are exposed to so many environmental toxins, and for this reason I believe it is important to choose nontoxic options when available.”

Luckily, nontoxic formulations have come a long way, and so has their staying power. “With the elimination of toluene sulfonamide/formaldehyde resin, nail polishes may not last quite as long,” De Santino says. “However, using a basecoat and topcoat extends the wear. I apply the basecoat, polish and topcoat around the edge to ensure the entire nail is sealed. I apply top coat every two to three days to help seal and add shine, and apply cuticle oil daily.” Look for good-for-you ingredients like jojoba oil and sweet almond oil in cuticle oils, since they add intense moisture to the nail bed and cuticles.

Beautiful nails start from the inside. “A healthy diet is key and healthy nails start from within,” De Santino says. And when it comes to color, the hottest hues right now have an autumnal vibe. “Cozy shades from earth-drawn elements— such as glossy grays, rich browns, warm taupes and deep purples—are on trend for fall,” he says.

Look for polish that is “5-, 7-, 8-, 9-, or 12-free,” which means the harshest chemicals have been removed. De Santino breaks down the most easily avoidable harmful nail polish ingredients:

FORMALDEHYDE Formaldehyde vapors are irritating to our system and can trigger asthma. Formaldehyde is also a known human carcinogen, a factor directly involved in causing cancer.

TOLUENE Toluene is toxic to the nervous system, impairs breathing, can cause nausea, developmental damage to the fetus if pregnant and is linked to malignant lymphoma. You can be exposed to toluene by breathing it in or getting it on your skin, causing skin irritation.

DIBUTYL PHTHALATE (DBP) DBP is an endocrine disruptor that has been linked to cancer. DBP has also been connected to birth defects in studies involving lab animals. In fact, this toxin was added to the California Proposition 65 list of suspected teratogens, which are agents that cause malformations of an embryo.

CAMPHOR Camphor may cause seizures, liver damage and disorientation if used in large doses. This chemical acts as a cover on your nails, depriving them of nutrients and causing yellow staining on your nails.

FORMALDEHYDE RESIN Formaldehyde Resin is a skin allergen known to cause dermatitis. It can also off-gas formaldehyde and may contain residual levels of formaldehyde.

XYLENE Xylene is irritating to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. It can cause systemic toxicity by ingestion or inhalation.

PARABENS Parabens have been linked to breast cancer and may be an endocrine active chemical.

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