Last week, neon-pink nail polish made some unlikely headlines when a J. Crew advertisement showed the company’s creative director, Jenna Lyons, painting her five-year-old son’s toenails with the bubble-gum shade. While talking heads debated the appropriateness of nail polish for boys and recommended that Lyons put aside some money for Beckett’s future therapy bills, I kept thinking: Is adult nail polish even safe for children? I have an almost-two-year-old son and he took one look at my feet after a recent pedicure and said “Henry have those toes.” I’m happy to let him cover his toenails with rainbow nail polish, but I am just overprotective enough to wonder if the grown-up stuff is right—health wise—for him. (I’m also pretty convinced my helicopter-Mom instincts are the thing that will drive him into therapy, not my permissiveness about makeup experimentation.) Here’s what I discovered:
Adult nail polishes may can contain things such as formaldehyde and pthalates, which are toxic if they’re ingested. “It’s an issue if the child sucks on her fingers or eats the polish. Adults typically won’t do this,” says cosmetic chemist Joe Cincotta. (Nail biters take note!) While a lot of major brands have removed these chemicals from their formulas, if you do plan to apply nail polish to a child’s fingers or toes, consider choosing a water-based formula like the ones from Suncoat Girl (will the gender stereotyping never end!?!) or Priti NYC. “These are non-toxic and have low odor, and are very suitable for children to apply themselves,” says cosmetic chemist Jim Hammer. They are also easy to clean up if they spill. They won’t last as long as other polishes—they peel off if you soak your hands in water—but that may not be a problem for a kid who wants to experiment with different colors. I plan on helping my son Henry safely shock some news pundits shortly!