Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Choice to Be Big 3 Free

Truth be told, I was once a nail-biter.  From the end of middle school right up into halfway through my undergrad in college career, I used to bite my nails.  What changed that?  Finding my love of cosmetics and developing an interest in nailpolish changed all of that.  Along with that came my usage of what was then my holy grail topcoat, Seche Vite.

I'm sure those of you that are into beauty products as I am have seen it reviewed.  It has earned a reputation for itself as drying nailpolish faster than it would take to dry on its own while providing an attractive glossy finish and the protective properties of a traditional topcoat.  I'm sure that many of you have also seen the controversy surrounding its warning label:

WARNING! This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Now people have argued up and down about this, but the point of this post isn't to evangelize or try and move you to make the same decision I did.  It's not even to discuss Seche Vite specifically, as I'm sure there is a wide range of other products that have similar ingredients (e.g. - I read in a comment here that Chanel still makes polishes with toluene).  I just want to share what led me to this decision and, if you'd like, provide a starting point for your own research!

As listed on the website for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the "Toxic Trio" of nailpolish ingredients are dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene.  According to the book A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients by Ruth Winter, M.S., these ingredients can pose a variety of different health risks.

Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP):
This ingredient is used as a plasticizer in nailpolish, but is also used as a perfume solvent, fixative, shampoo, and antifoam ingredient.  It can also be used as an insect repellent.  DBP has a low toxicity, but if if it is ingested, it can cause gastrointestinal upset.  Vapor from this ingredient can irritate both the eyes and mucous membranes.

With regards to side effects, DBP has been linked to gene and hormone changes in rodents.  In humans, it has been linked to genital abnormalities in infants and testicular cancer.  Additionally, the United States EPA and the National Toxicology Program suspect that DBP is toxic to development, the endocrine and gastrointestinal systems, liver, nerves, and kidneys.  It is also on the California Proposition 65's list of substances known to cause cancer or reproductive harm.

Formaldehyde is currently on the Canadian Hotlist and is banned for use in cosmetics in both Swedena and Japan.  This ingredient, popularly known for its use in funeral homes, is also used in many cosmetic products as a disinfectant and preservative.  It is used in nail hardeners, nailpolish, soap, and hair products.  When used in cosmetics, it is often used as a disinfectant, germicide, fungicide, defoamer, and preservative.  Even though it might not be listed on the ingredient list, formaldehyde can be used as a preservative in other ingredients, such as lauryl sulfate.

In lab rats, it has been found to cause lung cancer.  Vapors from formaldehyde are irritating to human mucous membranes.  If ingested, formaldehyde can cause severe abdominal pain, internal bleeding, inability to urinate, vertigo, coma, and even death.  Skin reactions are common after exposure since it may be irritating and allergy producing.

Despite the risks, it has been concluded by the CIR Expert Panel to be safe to the great majority of consumers.  However, some may be more sensitive than others because of varying skin types.  Furthermore, it is encouraged that manufacturing of cosmetic products should take into account the minimum amount of formaldehyde necessary to provide the intended purpose.

Toluene, the offender in Seche Vite, is used in nailpolish up to 50%.  It is used mostly as a solvent, and in nailpolish it is used as a "nail strengthener" or hardener with the goal of achieving high adhesion and gloss. 

If ingested, toluene can cause mild anemia and can be used as a narcotic in high concentration.  Among the side effects are possible liver damage and skin and respiratory irritation.  The longterm effects of low exposure to toluene have been found in at least 20 cities where it is present in drinking water.

The CIR Expert Panel has determined that toluene is safe in its current use in cosmetic formulations.

Called to make a change by the public, many companies have decided to reformulate their polishes without these controversial ingredients.  Among brands that boast being free of the Big 3 are OPI, China Glaze, Essie, and Zoya.

Why I decided to be Big 3 free?
Though I had been using Seche Vite for almost two years and was vaguely familiar with the concerns on the warning label, I thought that I'd do some research.  After doing some reading and buying the book, A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, I thought it would be in my best interest to try and find an alternative.

Even though the degree of risk that I will experience some of the side effects mentioned above might be very small, I personally did not think that it was worth the risk.  I think that this is especially true since there now exist products that do not use these ingredients and still do a great job.  Why continue use if I know that the risk is there and that there are alternatives?

All in all, it's just nailpolish and I don't think that I could forgive myself if later down the line it turned out that I could have prevented something negative from happening.  I am well aware that nailpolish isn't the only arena in which potentially toxic ingredients exist and it probably isn't realistic to be totally free of toxins like these (I remember hearing in a class that women were found with toxins in their body that had been outlawed well before their lifetimes!), but that's why I'm taking the steps to become a little more informed and make my choices that way--one step at a time.

In response to this topic, I have sought out to find a Seche Vite replacement.  Stay tuned for my reviews to come in the next few weeks!


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