Today’s client is educated and engaged. Many are concerned about product ingredients, our responsibility to the earth, and the importance of healthy life choices. These clients will likely gather information about products you use in the salon and come armed with questions about product safety. One of the most common questions is about the ingredients in nail polish; specifically, the Big Three.

As always, questions are a great opportunity for you to educate a client and to build trust and loyalty. Answer honestly so she knows you understand her concerns. Let her know the ways you make choices that protect her health — and your own. Here’s how that conversation might look:

Client: I heard I should use polish that is “big three-free.” What does that mean?

You: “Three-free” refers to three ingredients: formaldehyde, DBP, and toluene. Most major manufacturers (OPI, Essie, CND, Zoya, and more) have removed these ingredients from polish because of their reputation of being dangerous.

Client: Are they dangerous?

You: Here’s the thing: There were enough studies that showed high exposure to large doses could cause either health problems or, possibly, damage to the environment. The doses were always much larger than anything you’d ever find in nail polish.

Actually, a lot of the bad press about formaldehyde was based around information that wasn’t even true! Formaldehyde was never in nail polish. Formaldehyde is a gas and can’t even be put into cosmetic products. However, the actual ingredient used in polish (called methylene glycol or formalin) is made from formaldehyde. The cosmetic industry was required to label that ingredient as formaldehyde, even though the chemical structure is entirely different. After all the bad press with formaldehyde, the Nail Manufacturers’ Council pressured the organization that regulates how the cosmetic industry names chemicals to rename the ingredient to make it accurate. The ingredient has been renamed “methylene glycol” — and it’s still in nail hardeners, not regular polish.

Client: Wow. That’s a lot of information. So, you don’t see those ingredients as a big problem?

You: Here’s where I land: I don’t think the small doses found in nail polish are a huge threat to our health. However, I’d prefer no danger at all ... so if any ingredient can be replaced with something better for us or the earth, that’s the better option, so those are the products I’ll choose to use on my clients.

 Just the Facts:

1. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP): The EU banned DBP in 2001 after animal testing suggested the chemical may cause abnormal development in babies. Many manufacturers followed suit so they could sell to the European market. However, the levels of DBP in polish were never at a level where they were considered dangerous.

2. Formaldehyde: Big hype about an inaccurately labeled chemical. The chemical that was labeled “formaldehyde” has been correctly renamed to “methylene glycol.” Though made from formaldehyde, the chemical structure is entirely different. It is still present in nail hardeners.

3. Toluene: Removed because exposure in high doses over long periods of time suggested a link to cancer and reproductive problems. Beyond the possible health danger, it’s suspected as an air pollutant.

4. Camphor: Removed from some products because it is considered an irritant.

5. Formaldehyde resin: Formaldehyde resin is often mistaken for formaldehyde, so this product is being phased out of some products because of its public image.