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California Proposes Designation of Nail Products Containing Toluene as a Priority Product

The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has recommended listing nail products containing toluene as a priority product under its Safer Consumer Products program. The adoption of this proposal could lead manufacturers to either discontinue use of toluene in nail products in California within the next four years, or initiate an analysis of acceptable alternatives to continue using the product for this application, or demonstrate that there is no feasible acceptable alternative to toluene for this product category.

Toluene in nail products has been suspected of posing potential hazards to consumers for some time. Toluene acts a solvent in nail products such as polishes and hardeners to create a smooth look. The chemical is associated with various health conditions including ailments of the nervous and respiratory systems, and developmental problems, such as birth defects and miscarriages. A number of manufactures have already phased out the use of toluene because of these concerns. The DTSC has initiated this action to ensure that other manufacturers similarly discontinue use of toluene in nail applications.

Toluene is one of the so-called “toxic-trio” of chemicals commonly found in nail polishes. The other two chemicals in nail applications are formaldehyde, a preservative, and dibutyl phthalate, a chemical that lends a hard finish to polishes. In the United States, this trio of chemicals is permitted to be used so long as it is properly disclosed to consumers. In some countries outside the United States, using these chemicals in cosmetics is illegal.

The presence of these chemicals may pose significant risks to nail salon workers as well as consumers. In the United States, there are approximately 130,000 nail salon workers, and the majority of these workers are women of child-bearing age. According to the DTSC, this group of workers is especially susceptible to some of the most serious adverse effects of exposure to toluene in nail products.

A comment period on the draft technical report was opened until March 15, 2019. The report will be updated based on these comments and submitted to an independent scientific review panel.

Grimaldi Law Offices has been advising clients for over 20 years on chemical and product law. For knowledgeable advice and in-depth analysis on your chemical regulatory compliance obligations, contact Grimaldi Law Offices at (415) 463-5186 or email us at [email protected].


Ms. Grimaldi maintains a diverse environmental law practice focusing on chemical and product regulation and litigation defense. Her practice areas include Proposition 65, California's Safer Consumer Products Regulations, California's Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Act and the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. Ms. Grimaldi graduated from the University of California Hastings College of the Law magna cum laude and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Bacteriology from University of California, Davis. Prior to attending law school, she worked as a research assistant in laboratories at the University of California, San Francisco Cancer Research Institute and at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.