Is it safe to use nail polish and nail polish remover during pregnancy?

We've asked the experts
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  • Is it safe to use nail polish during pregnancy when nail products are notoriously known for containing a number of strong chemicals?

    Nail polish and nail polish remover both contain chemicals which usually carry health warnings. So, you may very well wonder if an at-home or professional mani is safe for you and your unborn baby.

    There’s a lot of information and myths about pregnancy out there, with overwhelmed mums-to-be told constantly what they should be doing and not doing. From foods to avoid when pregnant to what exercises are safe during pregnancy and even the best beauty products to use when expecting. This can all cause confusion.

    However, when it comes to if it’s safe to use nail polish during pregnancy, the health professionals we spoke to have given a very clear verdict on the matter.

    Is it safe to use nail polish during pregnancy?

    Yes, it is safe to use nail polish during pregnancy – as long as you aren’t being exposed to the chemicals found in nail varnish on a regular basis.

    Painting your nails whilst pregnant has been deemed a safe beauty treatment by the NCT (National Childbirth Trust).

    Midwife Hannah Harvey told us that the chemicals in nail varnish are only dangerous if consumed in large amounts. “So you could safely paint your nails regularly and it would still be ok,” says Hannah, who is the lead midwife at pregnancy and parenting health app Juno.

    “I tend to recommend making sure that you paint your nails in a well ventilated room to avoid inhaling the fumes if you do want to paint your nails, just as a precaution.”

    A close up of a woman's hands painting her nails win a birght pink colour with a nail brush. The bottle of nail polish is next to her hands alongside some cotton buds on a white towel.

    Credit: Getty

    According to Dr Chun Tang, a GP at Pall Mall Medical, the concerns about using nail varnish whilst pregnant arise from substances found in the product. However, he agrees with Hannah that you are only putting yourself at risk when pregnant if you are exposed to these chemicals ‘on an ongoing basis’.

    “There are three toxic chemicals within nail polishes that can be harmful which are formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP),” he explains.

    “Toluene and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) are chemicals which have been linked to birth defects and developmental problems in children whose mothers were exposed to the chemical during pregnancy.” Meanwhile studies have found that the hardener Formaldehyde is a chemical that could increase perinatal risks in pregnancy.

    “The risk of being harmed by these chemicals is only really an issue if you are exposed to them on an on-going basis, such as if you work in a nail salon or have a substance abuse problem,” clarifies Dr Chun.

    Fortunately the nail industry now widely produce nail polishes which don’t contain these three toxic chemicals or other harsh chemicals. These nail polishes are known as ‘3-free’ and make it even safer to use nail polish during pregnancy.

    Popular brands like Essie, OPI and Sally Hansen all produce ‘3-free’ nail polishes. This means they do not contain the three potentially harmful chemicals that you might like to avoid when pregnant.

    These days you can also get ‘5 free’, ‘7 free’ and even ’16 free’ nail polishes which scrap additional chemicals from their ingredients like camphor – a known allergen that could cause some skin irritation.

    Nails Inc even do a special ’21-free’ range of polishes. This collection has eliminated 21 potentially hazardous chemicals and is both vegan-friendly and cruelty-free.

    So, if you are pregnant and want to paint your nails, look for any products with ‘3-free’, ‘5-free’, ‘7-free’ or more on the bottle. Always check the ingredient list printed on the back for ease of mind.

    The following brands are all at least ‘3-free’:

    Can you use nail polish remover when pregnant?

    Medical experts we consulted unanimously agreed that it is safe to use nail polish remover during pregnancy.

    They advise that although the chemical acetone is found in nail polish removers, it is still perfectly safe to use when pregnant. This is because removers do not contain a large amount of acetone in them. As a result, there is no substantial risk to you or your child when using the product.

    “Nail polish remover is safe to use during pregnancy,” confirms Hussain Abdeh, a qualified superintendent Pharmacist at Medicine Direct. 

    “Many brands of nail polish remover contain a manufactured version of acetone; this could lead to developmental issues if used excessively over a long period. However, using a nail polish remover once or twice a week will not be enough to pose a significant risk.”

    A close up of a woman's hands using a cotton pad with nail varnish remover on to wipe off her dark blue manicure, against a white background.

    Credit: Getty

    Midwife Hannah Harvey agrees that pregnant women can use nail varnish remover without too much concern:

    “You can use nail polish remover in pregnancy,” she says. “But again I would limit the amount you are using to a minimal amount and try to do it in a well ventilated room.

    “After you have removed your nail polish and used the remover I would wash your hands and nails thoroughly, again as a precautionary method.” 

    Like our other experts, Dr Chun confirms it is safe to use nail polish remover during pregnancy. He also agrees that the chemicals in nail polish remover pose no real threat unless inhaled in large quantities like “someone who was using nail polish remover as a form of substance abuse”.

    Can you use acetone during pregnancy?

    The general consensus is that acetone (used in nail varnish remover) is safe during pregnancy.

    “Acetone can cause developmental problems if used in large amounts, but you wouldn’t be able to use so much of it that it would be unsafe when pregnant,” says Hannah.

    A close up of a woman's manicured hands cradling her baby bump in a dark blue dress.

    Credit: Getty

    “If you were painting and removing your nail polish every day it would still be classed as a safe level of acetone. I would proceed with caution and use sparingly.”

    Pharmacist Hussain Abdeh agrees that acetone when used in nail polish remover is safe for expectant mums. 

    He says that any acetone used in relation to nails “will not be a sufficient amount to cause any problems”.

    “Many people do not realise that acetone exists in the environment and also occurs naturally in the human body too, as well as being manufactured for cosmetic products,” he adds.

    Dr Chun supports this finding, noting that acetone naturally occurs in plants, trees and volcanic gases. In the body it is found to help breakdown fat.

    Acetone is therefore safe to use during pregnancy and is only a risk if exposed to large amounts of it. 

    Nail varnish remover, white, pale pink and clear nail polish, cotton pads on a powdery colour background.

    Credit: Getty

    Dr Chun instead advises mums-to-be to be aware of a different chemical commonly used with acetone.

    “It is important to check whether the chemical methyl methacrylate monomer (MMA) is used within your acetone as whether pregnant or not,” says Dr Chun. “This substance should be avoided.” 

    If you’re worried, be sure to always check the ingredients in your nail polish remover. You could also consider using an acetone-free nail varnish remover. 

    These are readily available and produced by a number of top nail brands. They also have the added advantage of being less-drying and kinder to nails.

    Pregnancy-safe nail polish remover brands

    The following nail polish removers are deemed pregnancy-safe and do not contain any trace of methyl methacrylate monomer (MMA).

    OPI

    Midwife Hannah Harvey recommends nail brand OPI and their acetone-free nail varnish remover as pregnancy-safe.

    Acetone-Free OPI Nail Polish Remover 120ml, £7.50

    A bottle of pink nail polish remover by the brand OPI.

    Credit: Look Fantastic

    Zoya

    According to their Instagram, Zoya Cosmetics are a brand who prides themselves on producing “kind cosmetics that are nontoxic, vegan, breathable, cruelty free & pregnancy safe.” Their Remove+ nail varnish remover contains no isopropyl acetone, methyl ethyl ketone or n-methyl-pyrrolidone.

    Zoya Polish Remover, £11.86

    Butter London

    British beauty brand Butter London has also been given the pregnancy seal of approval by midwife Hannah. These handy ‘Nail Scrubbers’ wipes are excellent for having in your handbag.

    Butter London 2in1 Remover Wipes x 10, £10.00

    Sachets of Butter London's nail remover wipes

    Credit: Naturismo