Is Nail Polish Safe to Use During Pregnancy?

Is Nail Polish Safe For Use During Pregnancy?

nail polish while pregnant

Nail polish generally contains chemical ingredients that are harmful to human beings. These chemicals can be absorbed through the skin and the nail bed to enter the bloodstream and pass into the placenta resulting in risk for mother and baby. The fumes released from nail polish (and nail polish remover) can similarly be absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs and become toxic.

While some people will tell you that it is safe to use nail polish as directed, in small amounts and in well-ventilated spaces, it is recommended to avoid nail polish that does contain potentially toxic chemicals.

Read the label on the bottle and avoid the following chemicals:


Formaldehyde is most commonly associated with funeral homes and is used to preserve bodies after death. In nail polish, the chemical is also used as a preservative and to allow the nail polish to harden and dry faster. Quick-dry nail polish often contains formaldehyde.

Hazards During Pregnancy

Formaldehyde results in mild to severe general health conditions including cancer, respiratory conditions and it also irritates the eyes, nose, and throat when inhaled. There are additional health risks associated with pregnancy including:

  • Fertility problems
  • Increased risk of miscarriage

Formaldehyde is also known to pass into breast milk in amounts that are insufficient in nail polish to be considered hazardous.

Level of Risk

The level of risk for using nail polish containing formaldehyde is considered to be relatively low.

Extreme or extended exposure and ingestion may result in the above-mentioned risks associated with formaldehyde during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

However, exposure should be taken into account with other elements such as the use of beauty products that may also contain this chemical as a preservative. Formaldehyde may have a cumulative effect increasing exposure and therefore risk associated with the use of nail polish containing formaldehyde during pregnancy.

Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)

DBP is commonly used in PVC (plastic) to render it more or less flexible. In nail polish, the chemical is used as a dye solvent and as a plasticizer which prevents it from becoming brittle.

Hazards During Pregnancy

There are a number of different general and pregnancy related hazards associated with exposure to DBP:

  • May alter key pregnancy hormones resulting in a shortening of the area between the anus and genitals of male babies resulting in reduced sperm count and infertility later in life (decreased anogential distance).
  • Increased weight gain and intolerance of sugar in the mother resulting in gestational diabetes and Type II diabetes developing in the mother around 1 year after birth.
  • Increased risk of miscarriage.

Level of Risk

Currently, the level of risk for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers still needs to be established. It is unclear what level of exposure results in the above-mentioned hazards. However, it is highly recommended to avoid this chemical entirely during pregnancy and while breastfeeding until more information becomes available. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has issued warnings regarding exposure to DBP during pregnancy.

*It is important to note that not all manufacturers may list DBP or other phalates as ingredients. This is due to the fact that the chemical is used as a fragrance in many types of beauty products. Fragrances are considered to be trade secrets and manufacturers are therefore not required to list the ingredients. Although DBP is not used as a fragrance in nail polish, the manufacturer may still not list this ingredient.


Toluene, also called methylbenzene, is a hydrocarbon that is commonly used as an industrial solvent primarily in paint thinners. In nail polish, it is used to prevent the product from drying out and is responsible for the smooth finish.

Hazards Associated With Pregnancy

Exposure to Toluene results in irritation of the eyes, nose and throat and may also lead to dizziness, feeling lightheaded and weakness and can result in respiratory and other serious health conditions. During pregnancy, the following hazards are associated with Toluene exposure:

  • Spontaneous abortion
  • Birth defects including retarded mental and physical development
  • Retarded fetal skeletal development
  • Decreased fetal weight
  • Liver and kidney damage

Level of Risk

The level of risk is directly related to the level of exposure, The greater the exposure the greater the risk. Nail polish contains what is considered to be tolerable levels of Toluene when used as directed by the manufacturer.

Precautions When Using Nail Polish During Pregnancy

painted nails

It is important to take safety precautions when using nail polish during pregnancy. It is highly recommended to avoid using any nail polish that contains the chemicals or derivatives or the chemicals Toluene, Dibutyl Pthalate and Formaldehyde. If these are not listed as ingredients, it is till recommended to take the following precautions:

  • Use nail polish in a well-ventilated area. Exposure to these chemicals via inhalation results in increased levels of toxicity. Inhalation of the toxic chemicals passes into the bloodstream and therefore the placenta resulting in risks to both the mother and fetus during pregnancy. In some cases, this toxicity may also pass into breast milk.
  • Avoid contact with the skin around the nail. Toxic chemicals contained in the nail polish my pass through the skin, into the bloodstream.
  • Do not apply nail polish to buffed nails. Buffing removes the protective outer layer of the nail called the plate allowing toxic chemicals in nail polish to be absorbed through the nail bed and into the bloodstream.
  • Read ingredients in other beauty or care products that may contain the above-mentioned toxic chemicals. Exposure may be cumulative and unknowingly result in increased levels of toxicity and therefore increased risks.

If in doubt, it is recommended to avoid using nail polish during pregnancy. Keep in mind that not all ingredients are listed for some types of nail polish or the name of the ingredient may be a derivative that makes it unrecognizable. Although the risks associated with toxicity are relatively low in relation to exposure in nail polish, low risk does not mean no risk.


Summer Clarke
Summer is a mother of two: Jackson and Molly. The overarching goal of Birthing for Life is to share practical and actionable Momming advice at all stages of child development.