Making Nail Polish a Little Safer

by Katrina Kahl

Recent news reports have announced that OPI, Orly, and Sally Hansen, three major U.S. nail polish manufacturers, have made or are in the process of making their products safer by removing dibutyl phthalate (DBP), a chemical linked to breast cancer and other health problems. When DBP was banned from use in cosmetics by the European Union in 2004, OPI and Orly began reformulating their products for the European market, but the safer products were not made available in the United States. This prompted health and environmental activists to take action toward making safer cosmetics available to people living in the United States.

In 2005, the California Safe Cosmetics Act, a bill sponsored by Breast Cancer Action, the Breast Cancer Fund, and the National Environmental Trust, was signed into law. The law requires cosmetics manufacturers to report to California’s Department of Health Services any ingredients in their products linked to cancer or reproductive harm. That same year, DBP was listed as a reproductive toxin by the state of California.

Initially, OPI, based in North Hollywood, California, insisted DBP was not a health risk in the small amounts found in nail polish and refused to reformulate its products for the U.S. market. However, mounting evidence suggests that harmful chemicals, such as DBP, accumulate over time with repeated exposure and may cause negative health effects. This is especially true for people working in the beauty industry, including nail salons, where workers are repeatedly exposed to DBP. Recent evidence indicates that young girls may be at increased risk, based on the emerging understanding that toxicity is related to the timing of exposure, not just the amount of exposure. Young girls may be at additional risk because their bodies are still developing.

This move from top nail polish companies to remove DBP from their products is a testament to the power of activism. In response to consumer and activist pressure, OPI and Orly have already started selling their reformulated products. Safer products from Sally Hansen will be on store shelves in 2007. Hopefully, with continued pressure from activists, other major cosmetics companies will follow suit. People in the United States are entitled to the safer cosmetics already being sold in Europe.

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