Is It Dangerous to Use Nail Polish During Pregnancy?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Pregnant women can certainly use plenty of pampering, and manicures and pedicures come high on the list of luxury experiences. Yet these are perhaps not the best way to take care of the self or a growing baby. Nail polish and remover may contain chemicals that can pose problems for fetal development and has been linked in some studies to birth defects.

Nail polish remover can be dangerous during pregnancy.
Nail polish remover can be dangerous during pregnancy.

One of the main chemicals of concern is dibutyl phthalate (DBP), which since 2006 has been removed from many polish formulas. In some places like Europe, DBP can’t be used in any cosmetics and a few states in the US prohibit its use also. This doesn’t mean that all nail polish will be free of this substance, and research suggests it is potentially toxic to developing fetuses.

Regular nail polish contains a number of harmful chemicals that have been linked to birth defects.
Regular nail polish contains a number of harmful chemicals that have been linked to birth defects.

Organizations that specialize in support and awareness of birth defects, such as the March of Dimes, emphatically request that women avoid using either nail polish or polish remover during pregnancy. Some of these organizations suggest that people not use salons that have significant nail polish smell while pregnant. It might be best to consider salons that do not have nail services to accomplish this.

DBP has been used in a variety of cosmetic products, and it's unclear whether minimal exposure to a small amount of polish constitutes a huge risk. It isn’t necessarily obvious that if the only exposure during pregnancy were to nail polish, that this would be problematic. Yet because of the use of this chemical in a number of cosmetic products, exposure might be higher than people realize. People might encounter this chemical from a number of sources and not just nail polish. In general it’s a good idea to read labels, especially if a person doesn’t live in an area where this chemical is banned, and avoid any products that contain it.

There are other reasons why some places have banned the use of DBP, and this includes the fact that it may be potentially elevate the risk of cancer. Organizations like the Breast Cancer Fund in California exerted considerable pressure on cosmetic companies to exclude this chemical from their products. For those who want to minimize risk at all times, nail polish or other products with DBP are probably best avoided, not only during pregnancy but at all times. It should be noted however, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not concluded that nail polish is unsafe during pregnancy, and disagrees with the conclusions of organizations like the March of Dimes.

There are some polish formulas that are free of some of the chemicals suspect in causing birth defects. People should look for these and they may be marketed as being DBP and formaldehyde free. Many women have found these to be great alternative if they want to continue polish their nails during pregnancy.

Some nail polish formulas are free of some of the chemicals suspected in causing birth defects.
Some nail polish formulas are free of some of the chemicals suspected in causing birth defects.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Hundreds of years ago, well, one would not eat half of the stuff that we get so conveniently off the supermarket shelf, that's for sure.

Maybe you started your day with a healthy thick porridge (yuck), followed by a good slice of get-your-teeth-into-that wholemeal bread. Then, after you had done the first half of the day's chores, you would be craving a juicy full fat piece of chicken (with skin) and some vegetables. All of that probably washed down with some water.

So, a hundred years ago -- the maternal and infant death rate aside -- a lot of things were a little more plain and people, wealthy or not, had a little less choice than today's average consumer.

Just think about it: nail varnish? I have a feeling that wasn't part of life then back either, but perhaps the very rich poisoned themselves slowly with some beautiful lead based make up.

And perhaps most of them did not even know when they did suffer a miscarriage. After all, ignorance is bliss.


Quiringhr3, do you know of any common products or food that needs to be avoided during pregnancy. When doing research, there were so many items that I became very overwhelmed.

For example, I found that lunch meat is unsafe for pregnant women because it contains listeria that can make the fetus very ill or even cause fetal death. This is shocking since several schools and organizations feed deli meats to our children frequently. Does this mean that it is unsafe for everyone to be eating as well? It really makes a woman stop and consider what she is putting into her body.


It seems as though pregnant women are not able to use or eat anything anymore. I find this very disheartening because it just goes to show how unhealthy of a society we have become.

Hundreds of years ago, women rarely even saw anyone else while they were pregnant and managed to do just fine. The greatest challenge then was disease, hunger and complications at childbirth. These days it appears that the vast majority of things need to be excluded from a woman’s life in order to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby.

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