Can Nail Polish Cause Dermatitis?

Do you get dermatitis? You might be quick to blame a body cream or a perfume as the cause of your itchy skin, but it could be your nail polish that’s the irritant.

As much as we talk about three free or five free, don’t forget that nail polish is full of chemicals – it’s a veritable cornucopia of ingredients that you probably can’t pronounce. And those unpronounceables can do some damage. Allergic contact dermatitis or irritant contact dermatitis – dermatitis caused by your skin coming into contact with something it doesn’t like – can range from a small rash or swelling, to very dramatic outbreaks, not just around your nails but on areas we commonly touch, like the mouth, eyelids, scalp, chin, or neck.

It is also worth pointing out that formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate (the three we refer then we talk about ‘three free’) are not actually banned in nail polish in the United States. The European Union has a much harder line on chemicals used in beauty products – there are strict limits on the amount of toluene and formaldehyde that can be used in the EU, while dibutyl phthalate (DBP) is banned in nail products. Meanwhile, the FDA has not issued any sort of regulation guidelines, so there are no legal requirements for brands in the USA beyond correct labelling. These products are known irritants, so if you have issues with allergic contact dermatitis or irritant contact dermatitis, be sure to check you nail polish labels.

If you’re concerned that your dermatitis might be a result of polish, you can do elimination tests at home by not wearing polish for a few weeks then gradually reintroducing various brands (we know…a few weeks without polish, quelle horreur!) It’s also worth seeing a dermatologist, because after all they are the experts.

Elise Wright

Elise is a social media strategist from Sydney, now living in NYC, who has a long standing love affair with the beauty industry- especially the nail industry!

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