Flame retardants in your hair and nails?

Dr. Janet Zand

June 26, 2020



Flame retardants are all around you -- in your furniture, your electronics, your plastic food containers, and more.

And these toxic chemicals are bad news. They’ve been linked to impaired immune systems, hormonal disruptions, obesity, and even cancer.

So it’s especially shocking to hear what researchers have discovered:

Flame retardants are showing up in our bodies. And women may have up to two times more flame retardants in their bodies than men.

But wait ... weren’t these chemicals banned a long time ago?

Unfortunately, no.

See, when one type of flame retardant is banned, a new one replaces it. Then that chemical is banned, and a new one replaces that one.

It’s like flame retardant whack-a-mole.

For example, in 2004 one of the most commonly used flame retardants, pentaBDE, was phased out. Why? Because it was linked to health problems, and it was detected in alarming levels in people’s bodies.

And now -- more than a decade later -- researchers are still finding pentaBDE in our bodies. In one study, researchers took samples of hair, fingernails, and toenails from 50 study participants. You can probably guess what they found ... the flame retardant pentaBDE.

And researchers found something else: the pentaBDE levels in women were twice as high as those in men!

Researchers think the higher levels might be because of nail polish. See, a number of popular nail polishes still contain flame retardants, including Sally Hansen, Revlon, and Essie. Why? Because the chemical keeps nail polish from chipping and cracking. But studies show that the chemical also seeps out of the polish and into your body!

So clearly, pentaBDE is still around. Meanwhile, manufacturers have already started adding a new flame retardant to their products: organophosphates. And recent studies show that organophosphates are showing up in our bodies ... just like pentaBDE.

So... what can we do about it?

While it’s true that these chemicals are everywhere, we can still take some simple steps to minimize our exposure. Here’s what I recommend:

1. Buy clean nail polish. Some clean brands of nail polish include Zoya, Piggy Paint, RGB, Talon, Ella + Mila, and Butter London. Or, you can do a quick search on sites like The Good Guide, The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database, or use an app like Think Dirty.

2. Dust with a damp cloth. Researchers believe flame retardant chemicals come out of our furniture in the form of dust. Dusting with a damp cloth captures that dust. (Another way to capture dust is by vacuuming with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter.)

3. If you’re buying new furniture, check the label. Choose furniture that says it “contains NO added flame retardant chemicals.” If there’s no label on the furniture, contact the manufacturer to find out if the furniture contains these chemicals.

4. Curious whether flame retardants are in the furniture you already own? You can send a sample of polyurethane foam to Duke University and researchers will test it free.

5. Be careful when handling foam products. Make sure that cushion covers are intact. Replace foam products if the covers rip or the foam is breaking down.

Flame retardants have been linked to some seriously scary health conditions. And while you may not be able to avoid all flame retardants all the time, the steps above can significantly lower your exposure.

Think of it as a great reason to buy some new (toxin-free) nail polish!

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