Are Nail Polish Fumes Bad for You? Here’s How To Tell


At this time and age, the nail industry is booming with support from all around the world. But did you know that frequent nail salon visits can cause serious health problems?

Nail polish emits toxic fumes that pose fairly dangerous health risks. Acetone and Toluene for example, could cause lung irritation when inhaled. Additionally, other toxic chemicals used in nail polish could cause skin problems, respiratory issues, and more.

Luckily, there are several ways to alleviate the risks and improve occupational safety in nail salons altogether. The most important step? Know what you’re dealing with.

Quick Navigation
Can You Get Poisoning from Nail Polish?
         Signs and Symptoms of Nail Polish Poisoning
What To Do if You Ingest or Inhale Nail Polish?
Health Risks of Prolonged Exposure to Nail Polish Fumes
         Allergic Reactions
         Hormonal Imbalance
         Painter Syndrome
         Skin Cancer
How to Safely Remove Nail Polish Fumes at Home

Can You Get Poisoning from Nail Polish?

Dan Cristian Pădureț

As mentioned, most of the chemicals found in nail polishes are considered toxic. They can inflict harm to your body, from your skin down to your nervous system. 

Ingesting and inhaling nail polish fumes for a long period of time can cause poisoning, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. The effects could range from mild allergies to neurological damage. 

The four most poisonous ingredients found in nail polishes are as follows:

  • Toluene – allows smooth application and finish
  • Formaldehyde – hardens nail polish and prevents bacterial growth
  • Formaldehyde Resin – a by-product of formaldehyde
  • Dibutyl Phthalate – boosts nail polish durability

Signs and Symptoms of Nail Polish Poisoning

Deanna Alys

The symptoms of nail polish poisoning vary depending on the severity of the case. If you suspect that you or someone else has been poisoned, here are the most common signs:

  • Eye irritation
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
  • Erratic heartbeat
  • Breathing problems (e.g slowed breathing or shortness of breath)
  • Frequent urination
  • Worsened balance
  • Feeling high
  • Hallucination
  • Seizures
  • Severe headaches
  • Drowsiness and stupor
  • Skin irritation

What To Do if You Ingest or Inhale Nail Polish?

In the event of someone showing severe signs of nail polish poisoning, immediate medical attention is required. Never induce vomiting. Instead, call an ambulance and provide the following information:

  • The patient’s age, weight, and condition
  • The product name and ingredients (if possible)
  • What time it was ingested or how long they have been exposed to it
  • How much was ingested
Dan Cristian Pădureț

As soon as the ambulance arrives, make sure to take the product with you or give it to one of the health care providers if possible. There shouldn’t be any serious or long-term effects if medical assistance is provided quickly. 

Health Risks of Prolonged Exposure to Nail Polish Fumes

Chemical exposure happens when you enter the nail salon and get a whiff of that strong smell from nail products. Usually, exposure is at minimum for rare users. But if you’re a big fan with their own stock of traditional nail polishes and frequent the nail salon, then you’ll want to watch out.

It’s a similar, but more dangerous scenario for nail salon workers and owners though. These people are exposed to toxic chemicals in high concentrations daily and the health effects only get worse in the long run. Worst case scenario? Sudden death.

Take a look at some of the most harmful effects of long-term exposure to fumes produced by nail polish.

Allergic Reactions

Propylene Carbonate, Acetone, and Ethyl Acetate can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and skin, and all of which are common ingredients of nail polish. At first, these harmful chemicals also cause mild irritation. However, this could quickly escalate to serious issues if not controlled.

Element5 Digital

Acetone, which is found in both nail polish and nail polish remover, also causes skin issues. The bloodstream absorbs acetone rapidly, so simply soaking your fingers into the nail polish remover could easily result in cracked skin. Even higher exposure might even lead to severe allergic reactions and dermatitis.

Hormonal Imbalance

A study by Duke University and the Environmental Working Group reveals that applying nail polish allows triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) to penetrate into your bloodstream in just 10-14 hours after application. This chemical disrupts hormone production and could cause reproductive and developmental issues among users.

Despite its threats to human health, the same study reveals that over 1,500 brands contain TPHP. With some even keeping it a secret from the public. Dibutyl Phthalate, a key ingredient in nail polish, also causes similar health concerns which makes users highly susceptible to diabetes and thyroid disorders.

Painter Syndrome

Painter Syndrome is a lifetime condition that is characterized by memory loss and issues with balance and speech. 

Every so often, you might encounter people who intentionally inhale nail polish fumes to get ‘high’. These people, plus nail salon workers who work in smaller and enclosed nail salons are at highest risk for Painter Syndrome.

Skin Cancer

As fake nails, shellac nails, and gel nail polishes increase in popularity these days, medical experts express alarm at the imposed risks of skin cancer. For this case, however, the nail polish isn’t the problem, but the process. 

The drying process of gel nail polish is characterized by repeated exposure to UV light. Frequent exposure to UV light forms wrinkles and makes you vulnerable to skin cancer. Instead of this, it’s best to opt for LED lights as a healthy alternative.

How to Safely Remove Nail Polish Fumes at Home

Roman Kraft

Don’t get us wrong, we aren’t telling you that you absolutely can’t apply nail polish from this day onward. Nail art, just like other beauty products, is a form of self-expression after all. 

However, things that make us happy shouldn’t be the ones that make us suffer. 

With all the harmful chemicals used in nail polish, having your own mini nail art corner in your house and doing your own nails could be risky. The chemical smell could linger around your house for a while and stick onto your furniture waiting to strike.

Here are different ways to get rid of the strong smell of nail products:

  • Apply olive oil onto your newly painted nails and let it sit for 10-15 minutes
  • Use air purifiers without masking agents
  • Spray some air freshener around your home after application
  • Keep the fan on
  • Store your nail polishes in an isolated area away from children and pets
  • Place a bowl of coffee grounds in your room to neutralize the nail polish stench

These methods can only help you to some extent. At the end of the day, you’ll want to make sure that there are gaps between your nail art sessions to mitigate exposure. Gone are the days when you change your nail color daily.

If you’re a nail salon owner, then it’s about time that you improve your salon’s indoor environment. Some solutions you could do are to use air purifiers around the area, provide masks for your manicurists, and switch to LED light and less toxic nail products.


Maria Lupan

Nail polish is toxic in high concentrations and should be used in moderation. Extreme exposure to its fumes could cause several health issues that you’ll definitely want to stay away from.

So if you want to keep doing your nails without compromising your health, then here are a few tips. Use air fresheners to neutralize that irritating smell, let your nails breathe, and seek medical help when symptoms appear.


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