#109 Fatal Conveniences™: Nail Polish Removal: Is Acetone Safe?

#109 Fatal Conveniences™: Nail Polish Removal: Is Acetone Safe?

I may not paint my fingernails, but I can appreciate the desire to have pretty colorful nails. However, the acetone nail polish remover you soak your hands in to remove those pretty colors is extremely problematic.

Welcome to Fatal Conveniences™. 

97% of 12 to 14-year-old American girls use nail polish and removers. 

But it’s not just young girls. Plenty of people all over the world love to paint their nails and do it regularly. There’s nothing wrong with it, I actually think painted nails look cool! But, when it comes time to remove that pretty polish, the majority of the options are toxic. 

I know I say this almost every week, but the FDA is failing us. Cosmetic companies are not legally required to list all the ingredients in their products. This means the products you’re soaking your skin in may have dangerous mystery ingredients. But the ingredient we do know is in most nail polish removers is acetone. And acetone, although not as toxic as I once thought, is still not safe for daily use.

In this segment, I’ll go over how and why acetone works to remove nail polish, and why it’s so readily available. I may not know much about manicures, but I do know there are safer alternatives! So if you’re a regular nail painter, listen up. You’re going to want to know what you’re soaking your fingers in.

Other info in this Fatal Conveniences™ segment:
  • [00:01:30] The truth about FDA approval
  • [00:01:55] What’s acetone, and why should you care?
  • [00:02:20] History of nail polish and remover
  • [00:05:10] Lack of transparency from cosmetic companies
  • [00:08:10] What acetone does to the skin
  • [00:09:00] Acetone alternatives 

Episode Transcript

Darin: It’s that time of the week for another fatal convenience. This is a bite-size segment that addresses some of society’s fatal conveniences and the steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of them. I define fatal conveniences as the things we may be doing because the world we live in makes us believe we have to, tap water, shampoo, sunglasses, food. I dive into the hidden truths behind some of our everyday choices that could not only be harming us but even killing us, so let’s dive in.

Darin: Hey, everybody, welcome to the show. This is Darin Olien. This is another installment of Fatal Conveniences. This is nail polish removers. So women and men and whomever else wants to polish their nails, paint their nails, and then ultimately have to remove whatever it is they painted them with or gels or whatever, listen, in the cosmetic industry, it is interesting because yes, is the FDA supposed to regulate it? Yep. But under law, cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA premarket approval. Basically, they don’t have to test for anything and they can put it in there, especially if it’s proprietary. But we’re going to focus in on the nails. I have been around my mom when I was a kid when she was removing nail polish, and it revolted me. I was, boom, out of the room. There is no way I’m sitting in that toxic soup irritating my nose, ears, throats, and eyes. And sure enough acetone, the main ingredient, it’s also a paint thinner. It’s been used in the industry for a very long time and there are some adverse effects, headaches, dizziness, confusion, faster pulse rates, nausea, vomiting, effects in the blood, passing out, even coma, and shorter menstrual cycles. So just keep that in mind. Nail polish goes back literally to 3200 BC by the warriors in the Babylonian Empire. Black nail polish was significant and showing the high social status and green fingernail polish was signifying lower status. So where are you in there? What is red and blue then? So there’s a long, long history of even dating all the way back to the middle ages of using nail polish and then having to remove it. So it’s been used for a long time. And then in 1915, Dr. Chaim Weizmann constructed patents for his fermenting of bacteria, acetone production method, later known as the ‘Weizmann process’ administered immensely in World War One to aid the production of smokeless gunpowder. So interesting how all of these things, especially in the cosmetic and personal care products were once used in war. So crazy. Early 1920s, Michel Maynard created the first acetone-based nail polish remover, setting the standard for the modern nail polish remover. So what makes it convenient? The acetone has been used for a very long time, especially through the natural process of bacteria. So very cheap, but people don’t realize through the exposure of it, what is the cost versus toxicity ratio, even though it’s cheap, is it something we should be doing? 97% of American girls aged 12 to 14 use nail products and 14% of those use them daily. So think about that, daily use. Again, all this stuff added up over time. And nail salons they live in that stuff, breathing it in, having exposed to it all the time. In the US, the business is between $6 to $8 billion a year in salons so it is a big, big deal. So this acetone being the main ingredient causes irritations. And since this nose is so sensitive, the nose gets hit right away, throat, lungs, irritations, headaches, lightheadedness, confusion, this was directly from the CDC. Lack of government oversight and regulation and trusting companies and manufacturers with ensuring that the ingredients are safe for the uses of humans. Neither the law nor the FDA regulations require a specific test to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients. There you go. The law also does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information with the FDA. What the hell is the point? I love how profit literally is governing what the FDA can do or not do. So FDA, what the hell is the point of your regulation? Literally, you are so compromised, FDA, your head is so far up the ass of the profit-centered companies. What literally is the point? At this point with the EPA and the FDA, it really means nothing because they’re compromised by profit. In almost every fatal convenience I do where there’s a chemical involved in human error action, FDA knows about it and doesn’t regulate it. Crazy. Nail polish remover ingredients vary dramatically between company and manufacturer. And as we learn, the FDA does not require companies to list the ingredients used. Man, acetone remains the only ingredient necessary in removing fingernail polish that stinks and it’s so strong and it’s so irritating to the body so they add other ingredients but they don’t have to tell you these other ingredients that are trying to mask this already intense acetone. The primary solvent is this acetone in all commercial nail polish removers. It is also found in nature, in the body. Did you know that? As the liver breaks down stored fat and makes chemicals called ketones, acetone is the main ketone. That’s cool, but the chemical concentration of acetone creates the problem. So the Department of Dermatology and the Cutaneous Surgery, Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami Hospital had an article. Exposure to substances such as acetone found in removers may have more toxic and caustic effects, especially if ingested. In addition for nail technicians, there are negative effects linked with occupational exposure. Compounds used in nail products may become aerosolized and lead to asthma, eye and throat irritations, and even neurocognitive changes. Not to mention it’s flammable as liquid. So the primary methods of exposure obviously, the skin, eyes, and the inhalation can irritate the nose and throat. The other aspects of it, it dries out the skin, dries out the nails and also strips away essential oils. There are also alternatives. Butyl acetate is an alternative to acetone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that these things are safe. So there’s also ethyl acetate, which is also flammable, irritants to the skin, and side effects similar to that of acetone. So lower the amount of exposure in concentrated times with acetone. But these are some things you try. Listen, I don’t paint my nails, so I don’t know but there are things that you can do to lower your exposure to this concentrated acetone to wean yourself off. Obviously, minimize the usage, lower the amount of time that you’re changing your nail color, all of that stuff. Maybe do not paint every single fingernail. Make a fashion statement. There’s also pure alcohol and vodka 80+ proof is also effective and it’s not as toxic as acetone. And there’s also some other things, non-toxic alternatives like Kure Bizarre Natural Nail Polish Remover, Rose, it’s like 8.5 fluid ounces. This is like 38 bucks. So yes, is it more expensive, but it’s completely safe and clean as they say, 100% natural nail polish remover keeping all of the oil-like texture without drying out these nails and hands and all of the gnarly smells. There are also some soy-based products, sundaes soil polish remover, 4 fluid ounces for $28. So basically you’re gonna pay a little more. Yes, but you’re going to lower your toxic exposure. There’s also just plain old abstinence from coloring your nails all the time. And then there’s vinegar and orange juice, equal parts of vinegar and orange juice and apparently, that can work. So try these other alternatives. Lower your exposure and lower the amount and the duration. Don’t do it every day. Don’t hang out in hair and nail salons. It’s just a toxic soup. And if you have eye irritations, nose irritations, throat irritations and you’re dizzy, then lower the exposure of acetone and try all their alternatives to clean your nails from the nail polish. Okay. So there’s the nail polish remover. Wow. Number one, it’s not quite as dangerous as I thought, but added up over time, it is to the ears, nose, throat, lungs, and please don’t get a coma because that does and has happened. Okay, so lower the acetone, try some other alternatives, and let me know how it goes for you. And if you find other alternatives that work that don’t have that toxic smell, then let me know about it. Thanks for tuning in everyone. Love you.

Darin: Thanks for tuning in everyone. I hope that left you feeling inspired to take a closer look at the everyday choices you’re making and how they could be impacting your health and even the planet. If you want to learn more about life’s fatal conveniences, head over to fatalconveniences.com. You can sign up for the exclusive access to Fatal Conveniences episodes, news, insights, and more. And all this great stuff gets sent each week straight to your inbox, making it really easy. Now, that’s a convenience without the negative side effects. It only takes a few seconds to join. Just fill in the form and take that amazing step towards making better choices. Remember, small changes can have a big impact. So, keep diving my friends, keep diving. And if you haven’t had a chance to check out the interview, I released earlier on the week, here’s what you missed:

Jonathan: If you walk by my office, you would have seen me madly scribbling on a legal pad with a bit of a smile on my face. I wasn’t smiling because I was enjoying the work. I was smiling because I was brainstorming a list, the biggest list that I could make of the things that I would do with my life if I could figure out how to support myself doing them. I stayed there for a while longer, but I knew at that point that I was on my way out. And that led me out of the wall and back into the world of wellness, human potential entrepreneurship, starting a series of companies, and eventually to really deepen in the last five years or so. How do we find and do work that makes us come alive? What does it even mean to come alive? Like if you deconstruct that, what does that mean?

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