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Manicures: Beautiful Nails, Ugly Endocrine Disruptors

Manicures and Endocrine Disruptors

A fun and easy way to relieve stress is having a nice relaxing manicure. Or so we thought. Unfortunately, new information has surfaced in recent years that suggests manicures, or more precisely nail polish, can cause significant health issues. It may seem strange to think of something as common as getting one’s nails done to be detrimental to one’s health. However, the health of our cuticles, fingers as well as toes, can hint at the efficiency and proper functioning of the rest of the body. In fact, serious conditions such as hypothyroidism can be recognized by cuticle health.

Hypothyroidism and Brittle Nails

Hypothyroid symptoms often occur in the hands and fingers in a variety of ways. Some of the more commonly recognized symptoms of hypothyroidism that occur in the nails include:

  • Loss of the little white moons at the bed of the nails (Alunula)
  • Longitudinal ridging of the nails (Onychorrhexis)
  • Grooves or depressions of the nail plate (Beau’s Lines)
  • Spoon shaped nail plates (Koilonychia)
  • Separation of the nail from the nail bed (Onycholysis)
  • Thinning of the nail fold and spreading over the nail plate (Pterygium Unguis)
  • Fungal nail infection
  • Yellow Nail Syndrome
  • Slow nail growth
  • Thickening of the nail

These symptoms may go unnoticed for some time, but one of the most prominent impacts on the cuticles that is easily recognized is brittle or cracking nails. Because brittle nails tend to have a physical impact on nail quality as opposed to just an aesthetic one, individuals are more likely to notice it. Jagged rough edges, and splitting are typical to brittle nails brought on by dysfunctional hormones or conditions such as hypothyroidism.

In addition to the shift of texture in nails, white ridges can manifest that may appear like small fractures. This is usually brought on by a deficiency in selenium. Selenium is a critical element of the body as it is required for converting inactive T4 hormone into active T3 hormone. This hormone is responsible for the regulation of our metabolism.

The Problems with Polish

One’s first response to seeing brittle, cracked, or yellowing nails, in addition to seeking medical help to resolve the problem, may be to cover them up with polish. Recent studies show that using polish on one’s nails may be gravely detrimental to not only nail health, but one’s total well-being!

More and more research is appearing that suggests that Triphenyl Phosphate, also known as TPHP, in addition to being a plasticizer and fire retardant in many products, is also an endocrine disruptor. These types of substances can cause severe fluctuations in hormone levels and inhibit functionality of the thyroid. This is troubling for a number of reasons. Hormone disruption can affect literally every part of the body. Sadly, studies are concluding that show our exposure to endocrine disruptors like TPHP are at upsettingly high rates.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) in concert with Duke University published a study in October 2015 that revealed some troubling news for those that enjoy manicures, pedicures, or simply doing their nails. Triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) is a rampantly common ingredient in many popular nail polishes on the market. This includes brands like OPI, Essie, Sally Hansen, Maybelline, Revlon and many other. Sadly, this means that people are unwittingly damaging their bodies with high absorption of the endocrine disruptor TPHP when they polish their nails.

Normally our nails are very effective at keeping unwanted chemicals and substances out of the body. There was conjecture by the researchers in this study that not only is TPHP contained in many polishes, but other chemicals in the product may cause our nails to be more absorbent and permeable, thus allowing chemicals into the body.

The study, conducted on 26 individuals, tested whether it is the application process itself or contact between polish and cuticle that is at fault for increased exposure to TPHP. When participants applied polish to fake finger nails there was little to no change in their levels of diphenyl phosphate (DPHP, the metabolized version of TPHP within the body). However, when they applied polish to their own nails DPHP levels increased sevenfold within a 20-hour period. This shows that nail polish has a significant impact on the body by allowing endocrine disrupting substances to enter the system.

How TPHP Impacts the Body

As with any hormone disrupting substance, there are a number of serious effects that come with TPHP exposure. Some studies have shown data that suggests TPHP exposure is associated with hormone malfunctions and reproductive issues. Other studies have posited that this chemical negatively interacts with a protein that is critical in regulating metabolism as well as the production of fat cells. More research is required but if this data stands firm, then TPHP may officially contribute to weight gain and obesity. Various other problems are also tied to TPHP exposure such as:

  • Altering sex hormone balances
  • Toxicity of the liver
  • Neurodevelopmental problems
  • Early onset puberty

Unfortunately, the hits keep on coming. Information attained via urine testing has uncovered that Americans are at an uncomfortably high rate of exposure to TPHP. This is likely due to this product being a common plasticizer and flame retardant in many products other than nail polish, such as household furniture. Studies have shown that various world populations have large exposure rates, some upwards of 95%. Therefore, it is important for us to avoid TPHP as much as possible.

One way to reduce one’s exposure to this harmful chemical is by replacing nail polishes known to be made with this plasticizer. Substituting endocrine disrupting products with polishes that are made with natural ingredients can help maintain better health. Some good alternatives that boast non-toxic ingredients are:

Awareness of the dangers of endocrine disruptors is the first step. The second is to avoid and minimize exposure to them as much as possible in your daily life. It is even more important for those who have thyroid conditions or hormonal imbalances to be aware and on the lookout for these disruptive chemicals. Through reducing exposure to TPHP, especially in nail polishes, you can not only keep your nails looking and feeling healthy but the rest of your body too!