To safeguard their health and that of their unborn child, pregnant women are subject to numerous restrictions: dietary, physical activity, cosmetics... Nail polish is one of the products often discouraged during pregnancy. What is the real situation?
Nail polish and pregnancy: are they compatible?
Pregnancy can be a frustrating time for a woman as she sees her range of possible activities diminish over the months. The same applies to cosmetics. Some contain active ingredients that pose a risk during pregnancy. Nail polishes are no exception and their use by pregnant women is often discouraged.
Indeed, most "traditional" nail varnishes contain substances that are toxic to the foetus when inhaled. Once these substances are present in the mother's bloodstream, they can easily reach the placenta. It's worth noting that the blood circulation between the mother and child is established as early as the fourth week of pregnancy.
Among the main substances found in nail varnishes that are not recommended for pregnant women, we can mention the formaldehyde. It is classified as a "possible carcinogen for humans" in Europe and is considered a potential endocrine disruptor. As a reminder, an endocrine disruptor is a substance capable of disrupting hormonal function.
We also frequently find toluene in nail varnishes. This irritating solvent emits an odour that can exacerbate nausea in pregnant women. Moreover, a recent study has correlated high exposure to toluene during pregnancy with the birth of a baby suffering from hydranencephaly, a severe brain abnormality. While the researchers themselves are not entirely certain of the established link between toluene and the disease, it is preferable in such situations to apply the principle of caution.
Natural nail polishes, a solution?
Natural nail polishes present a viable alternative for pregnant women. They can be identified by the labels "3 free", "5 free" or even "8 free". It's worth noting that the number preceding the word "free" specifies the number of controversial ingredients that have been removed. This is a standard, the characteristics of which are summarised in the table below.
|Toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBT), formaldehyde
|Toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBT), formaldehyde, camphor
|Toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBT), formaldehyde, camphor, xylene
|Toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBT), formaldehyde, camphor, xylene, formaldehyde resin
|Toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBT), formaldehyde, camphor, xylene, formaldehyde resin, parabens
|Toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBT), formaldehyde, camphor, xylene, formaldehyde resin, parabens, rosin
Natural nail polishes typically replace solvents with plant extracts, such as potato, cassava, corn, or sugarcane. Some are also rich in active ingredients beneficial for the nails. Here are a few examples: green tea, renowned for its softening properties, durian known for its ability to strengthen keratin, the avocado having a nourishing action. Regardless, wearing nail polish during the 9 months of pregnancy should remain occasional. It is also advised to thoroughly rinse your hands after application to eliminate any potential toxic residues.
Regarding nail polish remover, the ideal choice is a non-acetone version. This substance is volatile, and inhaling its fumes during application on the nails is inevitable, even in a well-ventilated room. These emissions are harmful to the nervous system of both the pregnant woman and the baby. Moreover, acetone proves to be irritating to the respiratory tract. Also, be wary of ethyl acetate, often used as a replacement. It too tends to irritate the respiratory tract and can exacerbate nausea.
FANUCCHI M. & al. Formaldehyde exposure during pregnancy. The American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing (2015).
AKYOL S. & al. Hydranencephaly in a newborn due to occupational toluene exposure during pregnancy: a case report. Acute and Critical Care (2022).