Q:I like to use nail polish on my toes. Is this terrible? Are there green alternatives?
A:As soon as the socks come off and sandals come out, girls everywhere (and, yes, some boys) start thinking, "Damn, my feet look terrible." Besides a good pumice stone and some nail clippers, a bottle of nail polish is often the means of choice to pretty things up. But unfortunately, and you probably guessed this from the potent fumes that fill the air when you open it up, nail polish is loaded with nasty chemicals.
That smell is the ozone-depleting, smog-inducing volatile organic compounds in nail polish, including carcinogenic formaldehyde and powerful neurotoxin toluene. Breathing in a lot of this stuff can damage your kidneys, brain and liver. (Take note, nail salon workers.)
Many polishes also contain the controversial phthalate, or plasticizer, referred to as DBP that's linked to hormone-disrupting birth defects like testicular atrophy and lower sperm counts. It also happens to be in all of our blood. For a full list of nail enamel brands that use DBP, head to the Environmental Working Group's Not Too Pretty report at www. nottoopretty. org/images/NotTooPretty_final.pdf. And stay away from nail polishes that list phthalates as ingredients.
No Miss and Suncoat are two common health-store nail polish brands that are free of all three of the contentious chems, although they're not entirely natural and contain stuff like polyurethane (a petrol-based plastic). Suncoat's 29 shades get their pigment from earthy minerals, are 70 per cent water, and are alcohol- and acetone/acetate-free. FYI, Revlon and L'Oréal's Jet-Set Quick Dry Enamel are also formaldehyde-, toluene- and DBP-free, but the rest of the chems in there are no better than other drugstore brands.
If you're treating yourself to a professional pedicure, either bring in your own polish or ask your technician to use one of the products listed above.
As you can imagine, mainstream polish removers aren't much better than the polishes themselves. Liver, kidney and neural damage is caused by long-term exposure to acetone. Companies have tried to soften the image of harsh-smelling removers by advertising the addition of natural ingredients like vitamin E and aloe vera, but don't be fooled - there ain't nothin' natural about it.
Nor are the alternatives much better. Back in 95, Health Canada issued a warning about non-acetone nail polish containing poisonous methanol, which is also deadly to fish, birds and wildlife. Check labels to make sure your acetone-free remover doesn't contain it. Acetate, the most-common acetone-free remover, isn't as bad and it doesn't emit VOCs.
Your greenest options include No Miss Almost Natural Nail Polish Remover,which uses a fruit acid solvent, a lichen-derived solvent, water and natural vanilla. Suncoat's remover is 100 per cent soy- and corn-based, but note that since it's less powerful than the chemical kind, you need to dab it on your nails with a cotton ball or Q-tip and let the remover sink in for a few minutes before you rub off the enamel. Suncoat's polishes can actually be removed by just soaking your fingers in hot water for a few minutes and then scratching the polish off with your nail. By the way, you can get organic cotton balls, rounds and swabs made by Organic Essentials at many health stores.
Know anyone getting press-ons? I don't need to tell you that gluing plastic bits to your fingertips isn't what Mother Nature intended. All sorts of nasty health problems, including fungal infections, can arise. And ecologically speaking, the waterproof glues used to keep the acrylic nail on and the powerful solvents applied to strip them off tend to emit ozone-depleting VOCs. One solvent, acetonitrile, breaks down into cyanide when swallowed. Stay away from nail salons that use methyl methacrylate (MMA) as an adhesive, since it's highly toxic.
FYI, lighting cigarettes or candles can be deadly for women wearing plastic press-on nails. Many catch on fire in a second or less!
Hate to break it to you, but your only completely non-toxic option is learning to love the nails you were born with. You can make them nice and shiny by buffing them.
Lastly, you are what you eat, right down to your fingertips. If you want to strengthen brittle nails, eat a calcium- and protein-rich diet and pop omega 3 fish oils, silica and evening primrose.
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