Toxic components in varnishes: products at risk

To see more clearly, and to know the composition of nail polish, it is necessary to consult the INCI list which is in principle on the packaging. Even written in micro-character, it may be interesting to detail it to better become acquainted with the chemistry of beauty.

Some brands of cosmetics highlight "Free" compositions, that is to say free of the most dangerous compounds (based on studies validated to date).

We can mention the 5 free (Ecrinal ©) colored varnishes that contain treating ingredients such as camellia oil and silk proteins and are displayed without formaldehyde, paraben, camphor, toluene or phthalate.

Here is the list of products at risk, to know on the tips of the nails:


Used to harden the polish, formaldehyde is classified as a "certain carcinogen" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It is a highly volatile compound that is carcinogenic by inhalation, allergenic and irritating to the respiratory tract and skin.


Parabens (butylparaben and isobutylparaben, methylparaben and ethylparaben) are likely to cause contact allergies, so they have been regulated for cosmetics by a directive since 1976 (1). Parabens are singled out for their disruptive effects on the endocrine system and reproduction, and suspected of increased cases of hormone-dependent cancers. The Afssaps * (French Agency for the Safety of Health Products) has nonetheless ruled on the absence of risk on short-chain parabens (at the authorized concentrations): methylparaben and ethylparaben, and is waiting for further studies to decide on long-chain ones: butylparaben and isobutylparaben.


In 2008, Afssaps found side effects in children under 6 years of age related to camphor exposure. Our French health agency has written a request for the European Commission to amend the Community rules on camphor.

The toluene

It is a solvent that makes the varnish material stable, but this organic compound is volatile and neurotoxic, irritating to the skin, the eyes and the respiratory system. Toluene is also found in summer smog. Toxic fumes can damage the central nervous system and the brain.

Phthalate (or dibutylphatalate)

Used as a plasticizer, phthalate is also considered as an endocrine disruptor, it would be involved *** in the occurrence of the precocious puberty of young girls.

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