Manicure? Moral dilemma!

4 min readJul 9

I used to love a good mani/pedi. Now, the thought creates a knot in my stomach.

Gloved hands holding a third bare hand, conducting a manicure
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

I am blessed with strong, fast-growing fingernails. Even now after menopause, they’re going strong.

I used to take advantage of this natural endowment by indulging in regular manicures. I favoured OPI’s scarlet “I am Not Really a Waitress” colour, which graced my fingers and toes for my wedding and honeymoon.

But a few years ago, I stopped this regular routine. And I’m finding it hard to go back, because I can’t decide whether what I’m doing is good or bad for the environment, for the people who work in nail salons, and for me.

Let’s start with the environment.

Nail polish is a kind of paint — a combination of solvent, resin, plastic and colouring. None of those are “safe” for the landfill, but did you know that health and safety regulatory bodies like the US Food and Drug Administration don’t approve nail polishes before they come on the market? For more, check out this article by Jessica Timmons in Healthline.

And don’t bother looking for a detailed list of ingredients: forever chemicals such as phthalates are obscured under the label “fragrance. Still, all those dried up bottles of polish and used up cotton pads with acetone are going to stick around in our environment for a long time, slowly leaching their toxic contents into the ground water.

So what about more immediate health concerns?

The same chemicals that are used for flame retardants and sunscreens often turn up in nail polish. Many contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Other common ingredients are endocrine disruptors — chemicals known to interfere with reproduction.

Newer nail “technologies” such as gel polishes are a great improvement on traditional nail polish when it comes to wear and tear — indestructible! But if you’ve ever worn gel polish for any period of time, you may find out your hands are suffering from several common problems. First, without the polish, the nails will look awful — thin and weak.


Recreational writer, collector of antique corkscrews, urban gardener and management consultant to social profit organizations. Proudly Canadian.