By Michael Hawthorne
Some cosmetics manufacturers and beauty salons promote “eco-friendly” nail polishes that are free of a handful of chemicals linked to cancer and reproductive problems.
But a new study suggests a replacement for one of those toxic compounds might be just as worrisome.
Signs of triphenyl phosphate, known as TPHP or TPP, turned up in every one of the 26 women tested a few hours after they applied nail polish commonly sold at department stores and pharmacies. The chemical, used to make polish flexible and durable, also is an ingredient in a controversial flame retardant added to furniture cushions.
Scientists are increasingly concerned about triphenyl phosphate because animal studies indicate it is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it can mimic natural hormones and scramble the healthy development of cells. One study showed the chemical can trigger obesity by causing immature bone cells to transform into fat. Another linked exposure to fertility problems.
The new study’s authors said popular nail polish lines, including OPI, Sally Hansen, Revlon, Maybelline and Wet N Wild, switched to triphenyl phosphate during the past decade after pressure from consumers and retailers forced them to phase out the use of another compound, dibutyl phthalate, which is banned in cosmetics in Europe and listed as a developmental toxin in California.
“The emerging science seems to be moving toward TPHP being problematic for similar reasons,” said Heather Stapleton, a Duke University chemist who co-wrote the exposure study, published last week in the peer-reviewed journal Environment International.
Though researchers acknowledged the small sample size in their study, they said exposure likely is widespread. Triphenyl phosphate is listed as an ingredient in half of the 3,000 nail products reviewed by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that collaborated with Stapleton on the new study and has pushed for years to overhaul regulation of cosmetics.