There have been no reported incidents of any adverse effects on the outcome of a healthy pregnancy due to manicures or pedicures. But according to a recent report from the FDA, research indicates that chemicals in nail polish, nail polish removers, and the like, namely methyl methacrylate and acetonitrile (a chemical that breaks down into cyanide when swallowed), are, in fact, dangerous and can cause numerous health problems including skin irritation, contact dermatitis, rashes, poisoning, and even death.
These facts alone cause concern and fear of manicures. Although the practice of using these cosmetic products could lead to a unique exposure to one or more of the constituent agents, the occasional use of nail polishes and minimal contact with their components during pregnancy seem unlikely to constitute a substantial risk to fertility or fetal well-being.
We could not locate studies on reproductive outcome in women working with nail polish, but it can be assumed that some exposure to the volatile components of the products is likely during their application and some ingestion of the dried products may occur when foods are prepared and eaten with the hands. The extent of the exposures may vary greatly, depending on the ventilation available and care taken in the application of the nail products, as well as the maintenance of the coated nails, including habits such as nail biting. Nail polish and other nail care items involve the use of the following: Pigments (usually as a paste), Primary film former (a lacquer with modifying resins), Surfactants, Flocculants, and Thinners. In addition, a "mill base" consisting of a water-insoluble protective colloid and a plasticizer are used to make up the pigment paste.
Many of the agents used are organic solvents, such as toluene, isopropyl alcohol, or ethylene glycol monomethyl ether, resins, such as formaldehyde resin, and phthalate esters, which serve as plasticizers, as well as polish-removing solvents, such as acetone. We found only one cosmetologist study on this issue (John EM, Savitz DA, Shy CM. Spontaneous abortion among cosmetologists. Epidemiology 1994;5:147-55). A questionnaire study of licensed cosmetologists suggested a 60% increased risk of spontaneous abortion in those women exposed to nail-sculpturing activity of other employees in the salon. Although nail care was not the focus of the study, this finding is consistent with associations found between hair chemicals and miscarriage risk in the same study.
If you decide to use nail polish in pregnancy, we suggest you follow these guidelines:
- Apply the polish in a well-ventilated room. Maybe stay next to an open window or door. The less you smell it, the less exposure you likely have.
- Try to apply only one coat, not several different ones.
- When you dry the polish, don't blow on it and inhale the fumes. Keep your hands far away and stay in a well-ventilated area.
- The same precautions as in polishing apply when removing the polish.
- After removing the polish, wash your hands well with soap to remove any residual polish and polish remover.