New Study Reveals Endocrine Concerns Around Nailpolish

rainbow of nail polish isolated on a white background

We’ve known for a long time that some petrochemicals pose not-so-good news for health. We have seen research revealing that some BPA’s (that hide in certain plastics) bind to oestrogen receptor sites and fool the body into thinking it contains more oestrogen than it does. And we have long held notions that cosmetics and perfumes could be hiding some subtle nasties of their own. A new research paper has revealed that a concerning endocrine disruptor hides in something that lives in many a bathroom cabinet.

A newly emerging study has revealed that many nail polishes contain a potential endocrine disruptor. “Triphenyl phosphate, or TPHP, a suspected endocrine-disrupting chemical, is commonly used to make plastics and as a fire retardant in foam furniture. And if you wear nail polish, it could be in your body too [1].”

The particular area of concern for the authors of the study lay in metabolic and hormonal health for women.

The study was co-authored by Duke University and EWG (Environmental Working Group) and contributes to a growing body of evidence showing that TPHP (or as some studies call it, TPP) may cause endocrine disruption.

Here’s the good news: TPHP isn’t found in all nail polishes.

Now the bad news: In animal studies, it caused reproductive and developmental irregularities [2], and it is found in a number of popular nail polish brands [1].

“Most studies of TPHP involve investigations of its effects on cells. A few have associated the chemical with changes in the hormone and reproductive systems of humans. The most recent studies are striking—they suggest that TPHP interacts with a protein central to regulating the body’s metabolism and production of fat cells. Scientists are conducting more investigations to discover whether, in fact, TPHP contributes to weight gain and obesity.

Nail polish manufacturers may have turned to TPHP as a replacement plasticizer for dibutyl phthalate, or DBP, that was added to polish to improve flexibility. This chemical fell out of use in nail polish because highly publicized scientific studies showed that DBP and other phthalates are likely endocrine disruptors and toxic to the reproductive system,” said EWG in their report on the findings [2].

So basically, if your nail polish boasts long-wearing or flexible properties, you might want to jump online and check the ingredients. Until we know more about it, TPHP could be something you want to avoid. Small problem with the replacement though: phthalates carry some bad tidings of their own. Thankfully, the warnings surrounding this particular chemical pertain mainly to children and males – both of whom would be a little less likely to use nail polish frequently [3].

Still, it pays to be informed.

To test levels of TPHP in participants, urine samples were taken before and after the application of polish. They specifically tested for Diphenyl Phosphate (DPHP), which is created when the body metabolises TPHP. When participants wore gloves and applied nail polish to synthetic nails, their levels did not change notably.

However, when they applied polish to their own nails, levels increased sharply. “Two to six hours after they painted their nails, 24 of the 26 volunteers in the study had slightly elevated levels of DPHP in their urine. Ten to 14 hours after polishing their nails, the DPHP levels in all 26 participants had risen by an average of nearly sevenfold, suggesting that more of the TPHP had entered their bodies and been metabolized into DPHP. These results indicate that nail polish may be an important contributor to short-term TPHP exposure. For frequent users of nail polish, exposure to TPHP may be a long-term hazard [3].”

More research is required before we know exactly what the ramifications are, and the current research doesn’t necessarily present us with any dire warnings, but it may prompt a few brand-rethinks for those who are concerned with endocrine health.



[1] Congleton, J (2015) “Nailed: Endocrine disruptor in nail polish,” Environmental Working Group, retrieved 22 October 2015

[2] Staff Writer, (2015), “Nailed: Nail polish chemical doubles as a furniture fire retardant,” Environmental Working Group, retrieved October 22, 2015


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