If you paint your nails you are potentially exposing yourself to various chemicals that can have harmful effects on your body. These chemicals are generally known as endocrine disruptors because they can cause hormonal problems, raise the risk of cancer, and in some instances cause fertility problems.

One of the harmful chemicals in nail polish is called triphenyl phosphate (TPHP). Researchers from Duke University and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently conducted urine tests on women and found traces of triphenyl phosphate in women straight after they painted their nails. Not surprisingly, women who painted their nails every day had the highest blood levels. That’s because TPHP is a foreign chemical that your body doesn’t know what to do with, and finds it difficult to excrete.

TPHP is used as a flame retardant in furniture and it is also used as a plasticizer. It is added to nail polish to make it more durable and help it stay flexible. Basically the qualities you probably look for in a good, long lasting nail polish.

The other problematic chemicals in nail polish are toluene, formaldehyde and phthalates. Toluene can irritate your skin and inhaling the vapors can irritate your respiratory tract. Some people experience drowsiness and headaches from the vapors.

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. That means it is widely accepted as a cancer causing agent. It is added to some nail polish to give it hardness. Phthalates are chemicals commonly added to various plastics. They are a suspected carcinogen. It is well known that phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals. That means they can cause an imbalance in thyroid hormones and sex hormones. They are also known to be toxic to the reproductive system, and may raise the risk of infertility and birth defects.

Fortunately, it is possible to buy nail polish that is free of these harmful chemicals. You might not get the same amount of wear from them, but surely it’s worth it for protecting your health. This is especially important for women who are considering becoming pregnant, as the toxic chemicals stored in your body will be passed onto your baby while they are in your womb, or later on while breastfeeding. It’s also good to remember that your liver is your body’s main detoxifier. The healthier your liver, the better able your body is to excrete all chemicals that enter it.

Need help finding a non-toxic nail polish brand? Here are 12 suggestions.