Friday, April 13, 2012

3 Free and what it Means for You

Recently it came to light that a few salon brand nail polishes claiming to be "3 free" were tested for toxins - and ended up not being as "3 free" as they claimed. This concerned a lot of lacquer-heads and lead to a few big companies reminding everyone of their firm "3 free" stance.

Why is everyone so concerned and what does this mean for you? Let's break down what "3 free" means:

"3 Free", sometimes known as "big 3 free" means the cosmetic in questions does NOT contain:

-dibutyl phthalate (DBP)

Some companies have also removed formaldehyde resin and camphor. You will see those polishes described as "5 free". You can find this description on the polish, the packaging, or the website for the brand.

What's wrong with these chemicals? Let's break it down.

I'm not a scientist, I'm not speaking these things as 100% facts. I've always had a concern for the chemicals we're exposed to on a daily basis so these are the facts I remember from years of sporadic research. Can I be wrong? Maybe. Is it important to remain aware of what you put on and in your body? Most definitely.

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas and a known carcinogen. A carcinogen is defined as a chemical or substance known to cause cancer. Side effects of formaldehyde exposure include irritated eyes, nasal passages, and upper respiratory problems. Children and pregnant women are highly recommended to avoid this chemical. Formaldehyde is both naturally occurring and man made - found in smoke, car exhaust, building materials like glue, and beauty products like shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, nail polish, and deodorant. On a nail note, after consistent use it can break down your nail enamel causing brittle nails.

Some people say formaldehyde is 100% in nail lacquer. Others say it isn't possible because it's a gas and you'll never see it listed as an ingredient other than in certain nail hardeners. Perhaps that's where formaldehyde resin comes in to play - but if this is the case then I'm not sure why companies are jumping on the "formaldehyde free" bandwagon...public hysteria? Mob mentality? I'm not a scientist nor am I psychologist.

Why is formaldehyde added to cosmetics?

In most cases the formaldehyde is used to preserve the product and prevent the cosmetic from breeding bacteria after each use.

Toluene is a colorless, flammable chemical found in coal tar and petroleum and smells like paint thinner. It can affect the reproductive system, possibly cause cancer, and is a skin and eye irritant much like formaldehyde. It's usually described as a "nervous system toxin".

You could also see toluene listed as phenylmethane, methylbenzene, or toluol.

Why do companies use toluene in nail lacquer?

It's used to help nail polish go on smooth and evenly to the nail. It's used to help suspend color.

Dibutyl Phtalate (DBP)
DBP is known to cause birth defects and increase the risk of allergies.

Why is DBP used in nail lacquer?

DBP acts as a binder to improve the durability of your nail lacquer. It helps keep the formula from becoming too watery, keeps it flexible and causes it to dry shiny

Formaldehyde resin/tosylamide
With formaldehyde as a base, it acts to keep your nail polish flexible and the nail hard. My guess is this is what companies and people are referring to when they imply formaldehyde is in their cosmetics - but I will reiterate that I am not a genius or well versed on these subjects at all. Just passionate.


Camphor can irritate your eyes, cause gastrointestinal issues, and headaches.

What does it do?
Camphor helps keep the nail lacquer flexible.

Final thoughts?

It's best to do the research on products you use daily and come to your own conclusions. Some people are not concerned by these chemicals and additives while others avoid them at all costs and are outraged they're allowed in our cosmetics and cleaning products. As it stands right now, nothing is truly definitive - but I do know these chemicals smell bad, make me feel sick, and a lot of European countries have outright banned them.

If you're concerned about the safety of the cosmetics and products you use, look their ratings up here at

What nail lacquers are "3 free"?

Zoya, OPI,  and Butter London off the top of my head are "3 free". There are more, just read your labels. :)

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