Can Nail Polish Harm Your Pet?

dog polish

Story at-a-glance -

  • According to testing done on nail products from California salons, several polishes labeled toxin-free actually contained one or more of the “toxic three” chemicals: dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene and formaldehyde.
  • All three chemicals are linked to chronic health conditions if inhaled. And while some experts believe there’s no cause for alarm, it’s up to you as a pet owner to decide whether exposing yourself or your pet to potentially toxic nail products is worth the risk.
  • If you do use nail polish or other nail products, we recommend you research the least hazardous brands available, keep all human nail products away from your pet, and use only pet-safe polish and polish remover if you can’t resist painting your dog’s nails.

By Dr. Becker

Many women (and some men) wear nail polish and other chemical-based nail products.

And polishing doggy nails has also become quite popular.

Use of nail polish by pet owners – on their own nails and their pet’s – raises a logical question: “Is it safe?”

According to a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and Associate Director of Veterinary Services at Pet Poison Helpline, there’s no reason for concern if you use polish on your nails – or your dog’s nails.

This, despite a recent report by the California Environmental Protection Agency stating that some nail polishes and other nail products labeled toxin-free actually contain high levels of toxic chemicals.

Nail Products Labeled Toxin-Free Found to Contain the “Toxic Three”

The California EPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) researchers sent 25 nail products from various salons across the state to an independent lab for testing to see if they contained three specific chemicals:

  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
  • Toluene
  • Formaldehyde

Known as the “toxic three,” these chemicals present potential health risks, including asthma, developmental problems, and other illnesses.

All three are linked to chronic health conditions if inhaled. Toluene and formaldehyde have been tested on both humans and animals; DBP has only been tested on animals.

DBP has been banned for use in nail products throughout Europe, which also has strict limits on the amount of formaldehyde and toluene that can be used. However in the U.S., use of these chemicals in nail products is not illegal, as long as the bottles or other containers are properly labeled.

Testing of the products revealed that:

  • Many of the 25 tested were labeled toxin-free, but some contained one or more of the three chemicals.
  • Five of 7 products claiming to be "free of the toxic three" had one or more of the chemicals in significant levels.
  • Ten of 12 products that claimed to be free of toluene actually contained it, and 4 of the 10 had dangerously high levels.

So are the labels on some nail products deliberately misleading? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

One manufacturer of nail products labeled as toxin-free but found to contain one or more of the “toxic three” chemicals says he disputes the DTSC report and plans to challenge it.

Another manufacturer whose products were found to contain toluene says he has no idea how the chemical got there and suggests perhaps it was contaminated during testing by the DTSC.

My Recommendations

  • Read Dr. Mercola’s article New Warning About Manicures, Piercings and Tattoos and pay special attention to the section titled The Health Dangers of Manicures and Nail Polish.
  • Consult the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database for help determining the safety of the nail products you use (or to get help finding safer products).
  • If you do your own nails at home, I recommend keeping your pet out of the room until the job is done, your nails are completely dry, you’ve put all the products away out of reach of your pet, and you’ve washed your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • If you can’t resist polishing your dog’s nails, use a quick-drying pet-safe polish and polish remover. Your dog’s nails, pads and paws should be in good shape, with no cracks, tears, open sores or any other condition that could be aggravated by polish or polish remover. Don’t allow your dog to lick or bite at her nails until they dry, and if you find she’s licking or chewing at them after they’re dry, I recommend removing the polish just to be on the safe side.