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Nail polish maker to remove chemical

Makeup artist applying nail polish. Manufacturer OPI Products is phasing out the chemical Toluene, which is linked to reproductive problems in women.

KAI RYSSDAL: It's a sign of the times that most of us are being more careful about what we put in our bodies. But what about what we put on our bodies? All those lotions, creams and ointments aren't exactly all natural. And some products — cosmetics especially — might be downright bad for you.

Activists have been after make-up manufacturers to get rid of the toxins. And at least one of them's listening. A company named OPI is one of the largest markers of nail polish in the world. It announced today it's removing some chemicals that could be harmful.

We asked Marketplace's Jeff Tyler if he'd head out to a salon and get a manicure for us. Y'know, just to check it out. He said nah, I'll just do the story.


JEFF TYLER: Toluene is a solvent used to make nail polish flow more evenly. But it also has a potential downside.
ALEXANDRA GORMAN: Toluene is a chemical that's linked to reproductive problems and, potentially, birth defects.

That's Alexandra Gorman with the advocacy group Women's Voices for the Earth.

Leading manufacturer OPI Products is phasing out Toluene from its line. Safety concerns about another chemical, known as DVP, prompted the company to remove it last year. But other nail polishes and thickeners still contain potentially harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde.

Gorman says customers should take notice. But she's more concerned for the safety of the estimated 380,000 professional nail technicians.

GORMAN: The real concern is for the workers. Because they're the ones who are exposed consistently. They're working with these chemicals day in and day out. So they get the most-concentrated dose.

Almost all the salon employees are women. And a high proportion are Vietnamese.

[SOUND: Vietnamese women speaking.]

At Harmony Nail and Spa in Los Angeles, manager Mai Mylar says she hears about health concerns at her salon.

MAI MYLAR: A lot of employees ask me questions like, will it affect my health? Will I have cancer?

Mylar says the move to remove toxins was necessary if OPI wants to keep her business.

MYLAR: If they would not change anything, like a chemical that harm, I would not gonna OPI at all in our shop.

Advocate Alexandra Gorman would like to see federal regulators take a closer look at the chemicals used in the industry to be sure they're safe.

In Los Angeles, I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.
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