Common Nail Polish Ingredients: Is It Safe?


1. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)

What is it?

Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) is a plasticizer. It makes nail polish more flexible so it’s easier to apply and doesn’t chip easily.

Is it dangerous?

The studies above were done using high concentrations of DBP. In the smaller concentrations used in nail polishes, it could be safe. But, as we don’t have any studies proving its safety (or lack of) in humans, you may want to avoid it just in case.

Verdict: Most brands don’t use it anymore, so it’s easy to avoid, anyway.

2. Formaldehyde Resin

What is it?

Formaldehyde is a preservative used to kill bacteria, fungi and germs (it’s also used to preserve dead bodies). The type used in nail polishes is Tosylamide/Formaldehyde resin. It’s there to harden the nail polish and make it more resilient.

Is it dangerous?

In high does, yeah! In the tiny amounts used in cosmetics, it’s unlikely to cause problems. Unless you’re allergic to it. Plus, Tosylamide/Formaldehyde resin is less irritating than formaldehyde itself. Still, if you’re a manicurist, nail technician or someone who paints nails a lot, make sure to do it in a well-ventilated environment so you don’t breathe in its fumes.

Verdict: Probably safe in moderation. Avoid it only if you’re allergic to it.

3. Toluene

What is it?

Toluene is a solvent. It dissolve all the pigments and other ingredients in your nail polish so it applies smoothly (no clumping).

Is it safe?

It depends. If inhaled too often over a long period of time, it can damage your lungs, liver and kindneys. But in the tiny doses used in cosmetics, it’s probably safe.

Verdict: Very likely safe in nail polishes. Just don’t drink it or inhale it (that’s when it causes problems!)


It is the dose that makes the poison. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde and Toluene are dangerous in high doses, but likely harmless in the tiny amounts used in nail polishes. Most brands have removed them from their nail polishes, making them easier to avoid anyway.



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