What Causes a Nail Polish Allergy?

A fresh coat of nail polish is supposed to make you look and feel your very best. So when you apply a generous layer of your favorite lacquer only to find yourself experiencing an uncomfortable allergic reaction, it can put a real damper on your self-pampering session. 

If this has ever happened to you, you might have gone straight into disaster mode: 

Do I have a nail polish allergy? Does this mean I have to throw out my brand new bottle? What if I never get to flaunt fabulous nails again?

Don’t worry—if you’ve experienced an allergic reaction to nail varnish, there are steps you can take to treat your allergy symptoms and find polishes, such as Dazzle Dry, that will prevent it from happening again. 

Understanding Nail Polish Allergies

Many people go their whole lives not thinking about nail polish allergies. You could potentially wear gel or regular nail polish for years without experiencing any side effects, only to start feeling off after applying a new product for the first time. 

This is because there’s no such thing as an allergy to all nail polish. 

If a particular product gives you unwanted symptoms, you simply need to figure out which nail polish ingredient is the culprit and avoid it in the future. Some people even experience an allergic reaction to acetone.

Common Allergens in Nail Polish

When you think about it, nail polish is essentially just a type of paint that goes on your body. So, it makes sense that some products would use powerful chemicals to give polishes special properties that help them look nice and last long. 

Unfortunately, many of these chemicals don’t bode so well with our bodies. 

In the best-case scenario, nail polish allergens can cause temporary side effects such as headaches and irritated skin. However, for some individuals, exposure to these ingredients can cause severe and long-lasting damage. Let’s take a closer look at a few nail polish ingredients that should raise a red flag. 


A chemical used as a preservative in many nail polishes, formaldehyde has been recognized by the National Cancer Institute as a potential cancer-causing substance.1 In Canada, this ingredient has been fully banned from use in personal care products, but the FDA has yet to match this strict stance. Regardless of the legal regulations where you live, avoiding this chemical is a wise choice. 

If you find yourself experiencing allergic reactions to nail polish, formaldehyde could very well be the culprit. 


Frequently used in products like paint thinner and hair dye, toluene is sometimes utilized in nail polish to help the liquid achieve a smooth finish. But while this chemical might make your manicure look sleek and shiny, the side effects it’s known to cause are not worth it. This toxic ingredient is known to instigate2:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Cracked skin
  • Reproductive damage
  • Respiratory conditions

Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)

This ingredient is used to help nail polishes maintain their flexibility instead of becoming brittle. Unfortunately, research suggests that this chemical3:

  1. Disrupts hormonal function
  2. May be toxic to the reproductive system

It’s smart to steer clear of DBP so you can avoid taking any unnecessary risks concerning your reproductive well-being. 


What is HEMA in nail polish? This ingredient is a popular staple in many gel nail polishes. While the full name of this monomer is Hydroxyethyl Methacrylate, that’s quite the mouthful, so most people just call it HEMA. When used incorrectly or too frequently, products containing HEMA can cause allergic reactions that lead to:

  • Eczema
  • Inflammation
  • Skin irritation

Opting for HEMA-free polish, such as Dazzle Dry, can mitigate these allergy symptoms.

Symptoms of Nail Polish Allergies

How can you tell when a coat of nail polish is causing potential harm to your body? And, if you already deal with other kinds of allergies, how can you know when your nail polish is the instigator to blame for a particular bodily reaction?

Trademark symptoms can signal an adverse reaction to the harmful chemicals found in some nail polishes. Keep a lookout for the following warning signs to determine if you have developed any nail polish allergies. 

Skin Reactions

Although polish is applied to the hard keratin surface of our nails, it’s easy to accidentally get some stray polish on the sensitive skin of our fingers. An allergic reaction in this area can look like4:

  • An onset of redness
  • Swelling of the fingertips

But the skin on our hands isn’t the only area that can be negatively impacted by nail polish allergens. Our nails make contact with other areas of our skin countless times simply as a result of our daily routines—maybe you touch your face as you’re getting ready in the morning or scratch an itch on your arm in the middle of the day. 

Regardless, when we mistakenly use nail polishes that contain allergens, we’re spreading irritants all over our bodies. This can lead to a condition called contact dermatitis—an itchy, uncomfortable skin reaction caused by direct contact with an allergy-triggering substance. 

The most common symptoms that people experience when they complain of nail polish allergies fall in line with contact dermatitis nail complications, which can cause the skin to become5:

  • Red and bumpy
  • Scaly and itchy
  • Swollen

Symptoms most commonly occur in areas that are touched the most, such as the6:

  1. Eyelids
  2. Ears
  3. Mouth
  4. Chin
  5. Neck

Respiratory Symptoms

The dangers posed by nail polish allergens are more than just skin deep. Harmful nail polish ingredients are known to cause symptoms such as7:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Asthma-like attacks

When you sit in a nail salon for a prolonged period or apply multiple coats of polish inside an unventilated room, you could be putting yourself at risk of inhaling these dangerous chemicals. 

Risk Factors for Developing a Nail Polish Allergy

Nail salon workers who are exposed to high levels of chemicals for long hours on a routine basis can be more at risk of experiencing negative health outcomes stemming from nail polish. For this reason, professional nail artists should always: 

  • Ensure proper ventilation
  • Monitor their air quality
  • Wear nitrile gloves that are resistant to many chemicals 

While nail salon workers should take extra precautions to stay safe, there are allergy risk factors that everyone should avoid, from professionals to their clients to at-home DIY nail artists. These risk factors are improper use and repeated exposure. 

To set yourself up for success and avoid allergic reactions to nail polish: 

  • Use the right products
  • Apply them correctly
  • Stop using a product immediately if it causes a negative reaction 

Treatment and Management of Nail Polish Allergies

If you suspect that you may have an allergy to certain nail polish ingredients, it’s best to seek help from a professional. By getting your condition diagnosed, you can ensure that you’re avoiding the ingredients that cause you harm. 

If you do find yourself experiencing an allergic reaction to nail polish, you can use moisturizers, topical medicines, and other contact dermatitis nail treatment options to relieve your symptoms. However, the best strategy is to proactively prevent an allergic reaction in the first place, and that starts with choosing the right nail polish products. 

Alternative Nail Products

Three of the chemicals we discussed earlier in this article are quite notorious in the nail polish world: dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, and toluene. Through protective measures like this, responsible nail polish brands are taking steps to provide you with products you can trust. After all, nail polish is supposed to boost your confidence and make you feel like your best self—not make you feel itchy, miserable, and anxious about your well-being. 

Here at Dazzle Dry, we’ve created a line of non-toxic nail polishes that never require you to sacrifice your health or your peace of mind. Our polishes are scientifically formulated without the hazardous compromises of industry norms. 

Our polishes are proudly: 

  • Hypoallergenic
  • Free from reactive ingredients
  • Clean, high-quality, and safe

With Dazzle Dry, you don’t need to scrutinize ingredient lists to make sure the polish that caught your eye won’t irritate your allergies. You can browse our collection freely, focusing only on finding your next go-to color. 

Preventive Measures to Avoid Nail Polish Allergies

The fabulous finish of a well-done manicure is never worth experiencing pain or discomfort. 

Enjoy beautiful manicures without worrying about triggering your allergies by following these three simple steps: 

  • Audit your nail product collection – In this guide, we’ve gone over some key nail polish ingredients that should be avoided whenever possible. With this knowledge in your back pocket, peruse your existing collection of polish. If you spot these notorious chemicals, consider throwing that bottle in the bin. 
  • Invest in hypoallergenic polish – Now that you know the harmful ingredients to steer clear of, keep them in mind the next time you’re in the market for a new nail polish. Look carefully at the ingredient list of each bottle you’re interested in to make sure it’s safe. Or, even better, find responsible nail polish brands with entire catalogs you can trust, like Dazzle Dry.
  • BYOP (a.k.a., bring your own polish) – Nobody wants to sort through bottle after bottle at the nail salon to find one that’s safe or hound their nail technician with questions about product integrity. Instead, simply bring Dazzle Dry polish to your appointment and take the guesswork out of your beautification equation. 

Invest in Hypoallergenic Nail Polish with Dazzle Dry

High-quality nail polish made with safe, clean ingredients is a must, especially for individuals who experience allergic reactions. But even if you’re not allergic to the harmful ingredients commonly found in other polishes, making the switch to a hypoallergenic polish can protect your health and well-being. 

Not sure where to start? Dazzle Dry was created to provide a better, safer, and more sustainable nail care solution. Browse our stunning selection of hypoallergenic nail polishes to create manicures that will have you looking and feeling your best. 


  1. Harvard Health. A look at the effects of nail polish on nail health and safety. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/a-look-at-the-effects-of-nail-polish-on-nail-health-and-safety-2019112118231
  2. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Toluene. https://www.safecosmetics.org/chemicals/toluene/
  3. The Healthy. The Most Toxic Ingredients in Your Nail Polish—and Safer Formulas to Try Instead. https://www.thehealthy.com/beauty/nail-care/nail-polish-toxic-ingredients/
  4. ROC Private Clinic. The Nail Cosmetics Allergy Epidemics: How can Nail Varnish harm you? https://rocprivateclinic.com/the-nail-cosmetics-allergy-epidemics-how-can-nail-varnish-harm-you/
  5. Uptown Allergy & Asthma. Nail Gel Polish Allergy Overview. https://uptownallergyasthma.com/nail-polish-allergy-treatment/
  6. OSHA. Health Hazards in Nail Salons. https://www.osha.gov/nail-salons/chemical-hazards