How Toxic Is Your Nail Polish? New Seal Identifies Safe Beauty Products

An environmental health group is offering its stamp of approval to create greater transparency between consumer and manufacturer.
(Photo: EWG/Facebook)
Oct 29, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

When you’re browsing drugstore aisles in search of the perfect pink nail polish that’s sufficiently bright without looking like a wad of freshly chewed bubble gum, it’s all too easy to pick up a bottle of Revlon’s Saucy or Sally Hansen’s First Blush. While neither color is likely to make you appear as if you’ve just stepped out of Barbie’s dream house, it’s the polishes’ ingredients that some consumers take issue with.

That’s where the Environmental Working Group comes in. This week, the nonprofit environmental and health group, known for its research on potentially harmful ingredients and chemicals found in food and beauty items, announced its new stamp of approval for personal care items. A green seal stating “EWG Verified: For Your Health” will accompany baby, hair, makeup, nail, skin, and oral care products that pass a rigorous vetting process.

The label goes beyond the company’s online index of personal care items and their accompanying ingredients, known as Skin Deep, and can make shopping transactions research-free for consumers.

Cosmetic products and their ingredients do not need approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration before entering the market, leaving the personal care business largely unregulated.

“EWG is known for consumer product ratings, and we’ve been asked for the past five years to influence more point-of-sale purchases,” Jocelyn Lyle, the company’s vice president of development, told TakePart. “This is our hoped impact on the market so consumers have a trusted source that they can look toward when it comes to better products for your family and your health.”

EWG launched its seal of approval with two brands, Beautycounter and MyChelle Dermaceuticals. Since the announcement of the certification label, several other companies have expressed interest in participating. While there is a small fee to apply, it’s tiered—meaning small companies won’t be priced out of the verification process.

To meet the group’s standards, personal care products must not contain any ingredients that are banned or restricted in other countries. They also must meet the group’s manufacturing standards, which include maintaining documents, testing for microbial contamination, and issuing voluntary recalls when necessary, according to Nneka Leiba, EWG’s deputy director of research.

Certain bottles of Sally Hansen and Revlon nail polish—as well as other popular brands, such as Wet N Wild, Maybelline, and OPI—won’t make that list. Along with Duke University, EWG revealed earlier this month that some 15,000 nail polishes contain the endocrine disrupter TPHP. Research has shown that TPHP can contribute to hormonal changes including weight gain and obesity. The chemical can be absorbed into the body through the nail polish. Along with TPHP, chemicals such as parabens, retinoids, and formaldehyde are listed, as are dozens of other banned components.

Not only will the label offer transparency to consumers who might not have the time to research every purchase, but the group believes that the verification can help shape how companies alter and grow their product lines—especially when they see how consumer demand for safe and healthy options affects their bottom line.

“We have to empower the consumer to make better choices, and we know that through that empowerment, [consumers are] making companies make better decisions,” said Leiba. EWG has seen similar success with its Skin Deep database: Manufacturers have phased out ingredients of concern, and megastores such as Target and Walmart have created their own lists of banned ingredients.

“In our best-case scenario, we wouldn’t have to do this,” Leiba said. “In our best world, the government—the FDA in this case—would regulate these products adequately, and anybody could choose a product safe for their self or their family that would be absolutely safe. But we’re so far from that right now that EWG feels that we have to step in.”