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Nailing the right varnish!

December 2017

colourfully painted nails

Seeing last month’s pictures of policemen wearing blue nail varnish – albeit for a special event - brings home to our age that we are living in a different world!

Today men need to take care of their nails as much as women...but however we care for our nails, covering them with paint and varnish is not necessarily the healthiest way to go.

Today thank goodness nail varnishes are much improved on what was available just a few decades ago. Most of the nasty chemicals which could cause damage both to our nails and also to our health have now been removed. However, it is still well worth checking what is in the varnish. The solvent formaldehyde toluene used to be used extensively as a preservative and you really don’t want to be putting any varnish on your nails that still includes this. Look out to for synthetic preservatives parabens and also camphor which can help give a shiny finish...both these contain chemicals we really don’t want in our body.

Nails of course are fairly resistant to absorbing chemicals, but a worrying study at American’s Duke University showed that we can absorb chemicals through our nails including from nail polish. The study found that chemicals in nail polish can enter the bloodstream in noticeable amounts within as little as two hours of application. While this will be a small amount, over time it can begin to cause harm.  

The Duke University study particularly concentrated on triphenyl phosphate, or TPP, a product used in nail varnishes to make the paint stick more strongly to the nail.

On top of that, when painting our nails, we often accidently go over the edges and simply wipe off the varnish from our skin...but not before minute amounts may have already been absorbed. Plus of course we often inhale some of the chemicals during application.

Nail varnish remover is usually based around acetone, which can dehydrate the nail plate making it weak. An American researcher has said that acetone can eat through the nail tip and soak through membranes entering the body eventually causing liver damage, but there has been some doubt about this report as we are talking about minute levels. Nail technicians who work with these chemicals every day could be slightly more exposed, but even here most scientific reports state that acetone evaporates far too quickly to do any damage, even if the acetone reached the nail bed.

For most people, when choosing modern products and taking care to apply vanish carefully, the hazards are very low. But they are worth being aware of, especially for people who have been wearing nail varnish all their lives.

It is not only health damage that is being talked about in connection with nail varnish. Certain varnishes, especially those containing the above chemicals and also dibutyl phthalate, can contribute to brittleness, splitting and cracking in the nail. Fingers nails grow by 3mm a month, nails on the feet grow much more slowly, so it can take four to six months or more to recover the nail from this sort of damage.

So to keep nails healthy, it is good to give them a break from varnish every now and then. Polishes which include nourishing ingredients such as vitamins and oils can be beneficial. Manicures or applying cuticle oils and other treatments are all of course really beneficial.

Acrylic and gel are now widely used in the nail business, but here the main problem is the UV light that is used in the drying process. As with all UV light, there can be damage and so if you are regularly having gel nails applied, then rubbing in a sunscreen before you have it done can give useful protection.

With the festive season approaching, there is no need to suddenly be frightened of using nail varnish. But it is worth investing time on nail care and choosing the healthiest products and advice.


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