Why Should I Use 5-Free Polish?


Hello, nail polish enthusiasts! If you have taken the time to visit our main site, you know that Dapper and Dame Inc is home to all the gorgeous  5-free artisan Dame Nail Shades. I could gush forever about these locally handmade polishes, but I’ll save that for later!

“3-free” and “5-free” are terms that we are hearing a lot lately when it comes to talking about nail polishes. So what does it mean when a polish is 3-free or 5-free? It means that they are without some of the most toxic ingredients that are frequently used in the standard polishes you buy at the store or even in salons. Not many people are aware of what is actually in the cosmetics that we put on our faces, the polishes that we use on our nails- and the fumes they produce that we inhale.

“3-free” means that the nail polish does not contain formaldehyde, DBP (dibutyl phthalate), or toluene…which are known as the “toxic trio.” Seriously, I do not like the sound of that already. Those are at the top of the list of toxic ingredients commonly used in nail polishes. “5-free” means that they do not contain the toxic trio, as well as camphor and formaldehyde resin. The last two are not as toxic, but are still extremely dangerous.

Let’s break down why these chemicals are so harmful…

Formaldehyde (used as a hardening agent in nail polish)

Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency of Research on Cancer.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong smelling chemical. The odor has be described as pungent and suffocating…and personally, gives me flashbacks to Anatomy & Physiology dissection days in high school. Mainly used as a preservative in mortuaries and laboratories. Also used as a binding agent in pressed wood products such as particle board, plywood, fiberboard. It is used in glues, adhesives, and certain insulation materials.

Formaldehyde is one of the most common indoor air pollutants. A 1997 report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the chemical is normally present in both indoor and outdoor air at low levels (less than 0.03 parts per million parts of air). When it is at levels exceeding .1 ppm, can irritate eyes and respiratory tract, nausea, primary and sensitization dermatitis. So if you have ever experienced tingling or burning  in eyes or your nose while using nail polish, it’s probably because of the formaldehyde.

DBP-Dibutyl Phthalate (Used as a binding agent in nail polish)

DBP has been linked to cancer and birth defects in studies involving lab animals (a whole issue on its own) as well as underdeveloped genitals and other long term fertility problems in newborn boys.

DBP is commonly used as a plasticizer and an additive to adhesives, and as a solvent. In the U.S. DBP was added to the California Proposition 65 (1986) list of suspected teratogens (an agent that can cause birth defects if a expecting mother is exposed to) in 2006. The good news is that many major companies have eliminated this chemical from their products following the fall of 2006. However, many companies have continued to use it in their products.

The European Union has completely banned the use of DBP in cosmetics.

Toluene (used as a solvent in nail products)

Toluene is a colorless, water soluble liquid with a smell associated with paint thinners. It is most commonly used as an industrial feedstock and solvent. Recreationally, it has been used as an inhalant drug for its euphoric high, even though it has the potential to cause severe neurological harm.

The most common route of exposure is through inhalation, and can be irritating to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract, causes headaches and dizzines. Not to mention that it could cause serious reproductive damage. Symptoms of toluene poisoning include headache, dizziness, ataxia (loss of full control of bodily movements), drowsiness, hallucinations, tremors, seizures, nausea and vomiting.

DBP is also flammable at temperatures about 40 degrees fahrenheit. Um, what?!?!  No thank you.

Camphor (used to give nail polishes their shine and gloss)

Camphor is a waxy, flammable, white or transparent solid with a strong aroma. It is extracted from an evergreen tree in Asia, called the camphor laurel. It can also be found in an unrelated timber tree called a kapur. Camphor can be synthetically produced from turpentine as well.

It is used for embalming fluid and other medicinal purposes, and was actually used in ancient Egypt for mummification. Camphor is also used in moth balls, since it is toxic to insects. It can be used as a plasticizer for nitrocellulose, an ingredient for fireworks and explosive munitions.

When one is exposed to camphor in small doses, it can cause tachycardia (increased heart rate), flushing and irritation of the skin, slower breathing, reduced appetite, nausea, dizziness, and headaches.

In large doses, camphor is poisonous. It cause irritability, disorientation, lethargy, muscle spasms, vomiting, abdominal cramps, convulsions, and seizures. This substance has also been linked to organ damage, such as liver damage.

Formaldehyde Resin (used to give nail polish its lasting power)

Formaldehyde resin is a synthetic resin with formaldehyde as a base ingredient. It is commonly used in paints and varnishes, and engineered wood products as a binder, sealer, and coating. Because it is so versatile, it is used in molded objects, fertilizer, insulation, fiberglass, and also used as a glue in the leather industry, for shoes, handbags and such.

Formaldehyde resin is toxic to humans and the environment, and is suspected to be bioaccumulative. Formaldehyde resin can cause severe skin irritation or outbreaks and respiratory problems, skin depigmentation,  and loss of nerve sensation. While formaldehyde resin alternatives are available, unfortunately they are not the most cost effective when it comes to manufacturing.


There we have it. I know I can’t be the only one cringing at this list of toxic chemicals. It is impossible to completely eliminate all  chemicals in our daily lives, but the little efforts to avoid the dangers do count towards a healthier life for you and the environment. So, ladies (and gentlemen who enjoy mani/pedis!) I fully encourage you to avoid any toxic polishes and go 5-free! Starting here at the Dapper and Dame shop!

Have a lovely day, dapper men and dames!


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