Some nail polishes commonly found in salons and advertised as free of chemicals actually have high levels of agents known to cause birth defects, according to California chemical regulators.
A Department of Toxic Substances Control report released Tuesday determined that the mislabeled nail products have the potential to harm thousands of women who work in more than 48,000 nail salons in California and their customers.
Investigators chose 25 brands at random, including a number of products claiming to be free of the chemicals toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde, which are known as the "toxic trio."
"There's short-term health effects such as rashes, watering eyes or coughing and wheezing," said Lisa Fu, outreach and program director at the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative.
Exposure to the chemicals can also have long-term effects, including birth defects, asthma and even cancer.
Investigators found that 10 of 12 products that claimed to be free of toluene actually contained it, with four of the products having dangerously high levels.
The report also found that five of seven products that claimed to be "free of the toxic three'' actually included one or more of the agents in significant levels.
The agency said it did not have enough data to accurately estimate how many people were being exposed to the chemicals through the products, but it is recommending that all manufacturers be required to disclose what's in their products.
Nail polish companies say the report lacks perspective and balance since it fails to mention that a small amount of these chemicals are allowed in formulations by the Food and Drug Administration.
In a statement, the Nail Manufacturer's Council said no maker should mislead its customers, but points out that nearly all of the nail polish industry voluntarily cut down the amount of toxic chemicals years ago.
Still some are calling for a statewide ban.
"This way, workers and owners won't need to worry about having to choose which ones are less toxic," Fu said.