Q: Where can I get a non-toxic pedicure?
A: If I cock my head, I can almost hear Ella Fitzgerald singing, "Summertime and the nail bars are busy." Sorry, I must be choking on pedicure fumes.
Even if you don't get headaches from an afternoon at a mani-pedi bar, someone else does. Researchers at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California say roughly half of 201 surveyed workers at 74 salons report headaches, skin and eye irritation as well as breathing problems from the harsh chemicals wafting through poorly ventilated salons. The org is now surveying for statistically significant increases in breast cancer rates among workers, too.
The good news is that since 2006, when the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics coalition started aggressively pressing nail polish suppliers to oust the worst of their toxins, we've slowly been seeing more brands get rid of the Big 3.
And what are the Big 3, as cosmetic campaigners call 'em? Formaldehyde (the carcinogenic hardener), toluene (the smoothing neurotoxin) and DBP, or dibutyl phthalate (the hormone-disrupting wear and tear resister).
Salon darling OPI, for instance, removed DBP from its polishes in 06 and took toluene out of its product line in 07. Though OPI says its polishes never contained formaldehyde, most of its strengtheners (except its "sensitive" version) still contain the headache trigger.
Which other drugstore and salon brands are Big 3-free, at least in terms of their nail paints? Revlon, Rimmel, L'Oreal, Sally Hansen, Orly, SpaRitual, Zoya, Butter London and, finally, after lots of foot-dragging, salon brand Essie says it got rid of 'em about a year and a half ago. In San Fran, if all goes well, a new city ordinance will make the conscious town the first on the continent to officially recognize salons that go toxic-trio-free.
If you're buying your polish from a retail store, always check the label, since you could be buying old stock. Case in point, while Sally Hansen developed half a brain to discontinue its Teflon Tuff line, I still spotted PTFE (aka Teflon) in ingredient lists on a couple of the company's other strengthening polishes on shelves at Shoppers Drug Mart.
Which brings us to my next point: just because a nail product is trio-free doesn't mean it doesn't have other questionable ingredients. I've seen nail creams with breast milk tainting triclosan in them and many nail strengtheners contain formaldehyde-releasing DMDM hydantoin. Stay away. Instead, treat brittle and peeling nails with a drop of neem oil into your unpolished nails at night. Pop a nail-boosting biotin supplement too.
And if you're getting your polish removed at a salon, you can bet the remover is heavy in acetone, since non-acetone versions don't perform as well.
No nail polish job can be all natural, but for a decidedly more holistic approach, head to the nearest spa that's committed to organics. Some, like Elixir Organic Spa on King West or Sukha Health Spa on Roncesvalles, offer pedicures with trio-free nail polish and use soothing all-natural and/or organic scrubs and creams on your feet.
Or do your own dirty work with a pumice stone (volcanic rock), a homemade coffee-grounds-and-brown-sugar scrub (stir some good oil into the mix) and doll up your toes with health-store nail polish. There are quite a few brands on the market these days, but the two you're likely to find in Canadian health stores like Big Carrot and Noah's are No-Miss and Canadian-made Suncoat. No-Miss is the better performer, and water-based Suncoat is the more natural, using entirely earth-based pigments throughout the whole line. No-Miss uses strictly natural hues for polishes #347 through #380, and the rest blend natural and synthetic cosmetic-grade dyes.
PS: If you're getting your polish removed at a salon, you can bet the remover is heavy in lung- and skin-irritating acetone, but the vapours of acetone-free removers made with ethyl acetate have similar health effects. You'll need more elbow grease, but No-Miss and Suncoat removers will erase last week's pedicure with earthier ingredients.
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