Divania Timmal, Contributor
Thyroid Nation

Nail polish could be affecting your hormones.

Love getting your nails done? Then this will shock you. Triphenyl phospate (TPHP), a chemical used as a plasticiser and fire retardant, is an ingredient in most nail polish brands. A recent study has shown that this chemical is being absorbed into the body and that it could potentially disrupt the endocrine system.

I, like many women and girls, have a pretty ridiculous stash of nail polish. Even though I only ever wear two or three colors, I am unable to stop myself from buying more and more – glitter, lumo, matte — you name it, I have it. It never, in all my years of applying nail polish, occurred to me to check their ingredients. Clearly, I should have been paying more attention. My hormones would have thanked me, that is for sure.

TPHP is absorbed by our bodies from many nail polish brands

Triphenyl phospate is used to make nail polish more flexible and easy to work with. TPHP is suspected to be an endocrine disruptor, which means that it can affect your hormones.

Research done by Duke University and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that TPHP is being absorbed from nail polish into our bodies. It is possible that the chemical is taken in through our cuticles, or that another ingredient is present in nail polish that makes nails more permeable.

The study was conducted by Dr Heather Stapleton (of Duke) and Dr Johanna Congleton (of EWG), who found that TPHP is actually contained in most nail polishes, even if the ingredient is not listed. The doctors conducted an experiment, where twenty-six volunteers painted fake nails. Urine samples were taken to test for diphenyl phosphate (DPHP). DPHP is formed as the body metabolizes TPHP. In this case, the levels did not change much at all.

However, when the volunteers painted their own nails, their urine samples showed an increase of seven times the amount of DPHP. This led the doctors to the conclusion that nail polish does contribute to short-term TPHP exposure. They also stated that exposure to TPHP may be hazardous in the long-run. But, more research is required to see whether TPHP poses a significant threat to our health.

Unfortunately, many popular nail polish brands contain TPHP:

  • OPI
  • Essie
  • Sally Hansen
  • Maybelline
  • Revlon, etc.

What Does Triphenyl Phosphate or TPHP Do?

Per Dr. Sara Gottfried, Harvard trained physician and hormone expert:

We don’t yet know the full extent of human risks from TPHP levels arising from nail polish. Most of the studies have been done on animals, but here are a few highlights. We also don’t know about toenails versus fingernails in terms of exposure, but the best approach is to apply the Precautionary Principle: guilty until proven innocent.

  • TPHP has been shown to affect hormone nuclear receptors (2)
  • It may change the balance of sex hormones (3)
  • It can be toxic to liver cells (4)

And avoid the OTHER Toxic Trio

TPHP isn’t the only potential toxin in nail polish. The other “toxic trio” in nail polish is formaldehyde, a known carcinogen also used to harden polish; plus the known teratogens toluene to evenly coat with color, and dibutyl phthalate, a plasticizer that adds flexibility and shine.


But, don’t lose hope! Below are a list of nail polish brands that are non-toxic, and probably smell way better than regular nail polish, too! (Danna, founder, has tried Piggy Paint with her daughter Savanna, and they LOVE it)

The take away message is that there are many things in our environment that are messing with our hormones and disrupting our endocrine system. The key is to educate yourself, be mindful of your body and find the balance in the things you love to do, like painting your nails and the things that work best for your health.

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About the Author

Divania-TimmalDivania Timmal is an avid writer (and book reader). For any thyroid patients in Korea, in the Chungnam area and surrounding, 단국대학교병원 (Dankook University Hospital) is really great. She sees a lovely doctor who speaks English. He is so helpful, and listens to all of her concerns and numerous questions. Check out her website, DivAndBeanWrite, with her friend Kate (Bean). Click here to check out her typical weekly meals. Be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

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Questions about endocrine disrupting chemicals or anything to add about the chemical TPHP? We want your thoughts, please. You might just help someone else in need.