Worried About Ingesting Nail Polish When It Chips? Here's What Happens—& How To Avoid It

September 23, 2022

The year I turned 27 or 28, I made a promise to myself that I will finally become the polished, sophisticated woman I’d always wanted to be, and maintain beautifully manicured nails. I then kept up a routine of painting my nails once every 10 to 14 days for an impressive number of months. I definitely felt like a woman who had it together. At the same time, I began having symptoms of rosacea and eczema on my chest and chin. I visited a dermatologist and an allergist, but no one really helped. Then I visited an acupuncturist who told me I had significant toxic build-up in my liver. When I asked if this was due to the pollution in NYC, she said, “sure, but what’s more critical is stress. The most important thing is more sleep. Eat organic, no spicy foods. Hang out with non-toxic people.”

More sleep made a big difference in healing my rosacea and eczema (although read more about the DIY remedy here). But that health scare put me off a few toxic lifestyle choices: cooking with a non-stick pan and regular manicure. No one told me manicures were bad for my health, and I was always using toxin-free nail polish. But intuitively, it still didn’t feel like the best choice if I wanted to avoid toxins. My nail polish always chips, and I also cook a lot. If you add two and two together, it’s no great stretch to say that some of those flakes (however microscopic) get in my food. Also, while I’m not a nail biter, for some people it’s a major way nail polish flakes make it inside the body.

I stayed off manicure for several years, only painting my toes with any regularity and very rarely indulging in painting my fingernails. Lately though, I was wistful about bringing some elegance, glam back into my life (this seems to be a recurrent theme) and wondering if there’s ever a safe way to wear nail polish. How?!

All nail polish contain toxins—even “toxin-free” ones

You probably have seen 3-free, 5-free, 7-free, 10-free, and even 12-free polishes. 3-free means the polish doesn’t contain formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP), which are the most harmful, known carcinogens. The more number of toxins the polish excludes, the safer it is—generally speaking. But even 12-free polishes contain chemicals, colorants, and plasticizers. So when little chipped bits of polish makes it into your body, you’re ingesting microplastic. Also, even 12-free polishes contain ingredients that are not approved for use in lip products.

The silver lining is that the amount of toxins in nail polish is such that you would have to eat a bottle or two of it to actually die. But there’s no question that even eating small bits of chemicals and plastics will have averse effect on your health.

Avoid chipping at all costs

If knowing all this, you still want to wear nail polish, the best thing is to avoid chipping.

  1. Always wear a base coat, two coats of color, and a top coat. All these steps are necessary for the color to adhere to your nail and get sealed properly.
  2. Know that your polish sets for six hours (!) post-painting. This means no rubbing, swimming, or showering during this time. The better the polish sets, less likely it is to chip prematurely.
  3. Continue adding top coat every other day post-manicure.
  4. Paint over the top edge of your nail. This seems so simple, yet many people skip this edge!
  5. Paint thin coats multiple times rather than one thick coat. This adds staying power.
  6. Don’t shake the polish bottle before opening it—instead, roll it in your palm in order to mix the pigment without introducing bubbles. More bubbles = more chipping.
  7. When your polish finally begins to chip, take 5 seconds to take it all off.

Choose the most non-toxic nail polish you can find


Orly in Just an Illusion, $10.50

This 12-free polish is vegan, cruelty-free, and made in the U.S. I feel like this is very autumnal, holiday-ready, as well as summery for the beach. Basically, a super versatile dressy nude!

Cirque Colors in Succulent Garden, $14.00

This 10-free formula is also vegan, cruelty-free, and made in Brooklyn. The brand has so many cool holographic colors and glittery polishes—and nothing about that says “food-grade,” but hey, the heart wants what it wants.

Last alternative… Go au naturel

Not wearing polish is the best way to restore the natural, pretty pink color of your own nails. I also love wearing lipstick, and I think that if I have strong lips, it becomes overwhelming to have competing nails. (And it’s way harder to change your nail color than your lipstick color, so…) If you still want to have fun with it—and I get it—why not try tinting your nails with beet juice or other natural pigments?

Have you ever worried about ingesting chipped nail polish? Just me?



Photo: respective brands


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