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Is it OK to share Nail Polish?

The launch of Lacquerous sparked quite a debate on the sanitary issue of sharing nail polish. Beauty products are personal items and, of course, nail polish has the same affiliation. However unlike most beauty products, for years we’ve been freely sharing nail polish with our friends, at salons (even some questionable ones, if we care to admit it) and in department stores (Sephora nail bar anyone?). We’ve bought unsealed products online from unknown sellers (Yes it came from China, not Amazon). We don’t even know what hazard mix of chemicals are in nail polish! But we Love it (capital ‘L’ kinda love). Living without nail polish is something most of us just can’t do (not happening folks!). It’s a personal risk and we’ve been OK to take it. So.. Lacquerous sounds great but can it be true?  Can you ‘rent’ nail polish? Naturally, we want to know if sharing with strangers is really OK.


What are the facts? Where is the science? (umm, in english please!) We asked a clinical microbiologist to give us the answers (for us normal folks) and this is what we got. We didn’t just seek an expert opinion, we want to know what the research says! Regardless of whether you think Lacquerous is for you or not, it’s important for us to know a little bit more about our favorite beauty obsession. And if Lacquerous is exactly what you’ve been waiting for and you have other questions, you can contact the Lacquerous team at Now, bring on the science…

Can any sort of fungus, bacteria, or anything infectious live/thrive/survive in nail polish?

The nail polish constituents include number of organic solvents. The cocktail of ingredients are really tough to be resisted by microorganisms including bacteria or fungi. Ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, toluene, isopropyl alcohol, tosylamide/formaldehyde are organic solvents and in combination (cocktail) they are toughest to be resisted or tolerated by microorganisms. Therefore, growth/survival is not expected in nail polish.

Can one catch something from nail polish?

Mostly the nails are free from normal pathogens but the infection of nails with keratinophilic fungi may be reported. Transmittance of these fungi through nail polish is not possible through nail polish as the polish is smooth and free flowing solution which does not cause abrasion (required to take up pathogen) on the pathogen infected nails. The bacterial infectious agents may not survive in nail polish due to the solvents. Therefore, we can make the statement that its not possible to acquire infection from nail polish.


If bacteria were to exist, how long before it dies? Does the bottle have to be sealed? For how long?

Somehow if bacteria gets an access to the nail polish, it cannot survive for long due to the effect of solvents on its cell wall/membrane. Sealing of bottle is generally recommended to avoid evaporation of solvents. The solvents are highly active on cell membrane and can dissolve the cell wall of bacteria within less than a minute.

If bacteria or something living was on the brush or bottle, what solution would be best to kill it? How long would it survive? (Note: Lacquerous bottles are sealed 2-3 days in transit and bottles are cleaned and inspected when returned).

Though uncommon if bacteria or a living organism was on the brush, it may be rinsed with nail polish remover, which contains acetone as an active agent (solvent). The acetone acts on the cell wall of the bacteria and kills them in less than a minute. If the bacteria is expected to be inside bottle there is no need to use any solvent as the solvent in nail polish itself will kill the organism in the same amount of time. 

In your expert opinion can nail polish be shared?

Yes. Nail polish is safe for sharing purposes due to non survival of most of the microorganisms in nail polish. If some microorganisms have been acquired from the previous user’s nails onto the brush, they will also be killed in a minute. The only condition to say it is unsafe is when the nail polish gets contaminated with an infectious solvent resistant microorganisms, which is the rarest of a rare event. Therefore, it’s safe to use and share nail polishes.


What about the new “3-free” nail polishes? What are they?

The new 3 Free nail polishes are polishes which lack three toxic components generally used in manufacturing. These constituents include Formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and Toluene. The 4 Free nail polishes are not supposed to contain the previous three chemicals in addition with formaldehyde resin. 

DBP acts as a binder and improves durability and ability of the nail polish. DBP is also known to negatively affect metabolism and liver function. There is ongoing research to indicate that it is not good for brain development. For this reason most brands are now moving towards manufacturing 3 Free nail polishes.

Toluene is a solvent used in nail polish to dissolve other ingredients and makes nail polish  smooth and easy-to-apply.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the effect of toluene on humans at low, environmental doses is unknown.  However, short term, high-load doses can result in poor performance on cognitive tests as well as eye and upper respiratory irritation.  Chronic solvent abuse (such as huffing) can result in dementia and brain damage.

Nail polishes contain a resin called tosylamide/formaldehyde resin.  This resin ensured that the polish adhered to the nail’s surface and made the polish tough and resilient.  Tosylamide/formaldehyde resin, is a major allergen and can cause contact dermatitis.  It can remain active and bioavailable for up to three days after painting your nails (Hausen et al, 1995). It does not show carcinogenicity as is shown by formaldehyde.

In your expert opinion can these types nail polishes also be shared?

Yes. The polish still contains acetone, ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, and isopropyl alcohol. These remaining constituents make the polish still rich with organic solvents which kill most of the microorganisms including bacteria and fungi. 

For more please contact Lacquerous. November, 2012.