The TPHP Dilemma: A Laquerista’s Nightmare

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading quite a bit about TPHP, or its fun full name, triphenyl phosphate. TPHP is often found in your nail polish; Mother Jones and Elle have both written articles on the subject. Elle’s title is kiddie pool shallow, if you ask me.

As a nail polish enthusiast, avid subscriber of Reddit Laqueristas, and lover of natural/DIY cosmetic solutions, this Internet hype has elicited my genuine concern. I’m very much ready to take my entire (YES, entire) nail polish collection to the hazardous waste drop off. Which you should be doing anyway if you plan on throwing those babies out, TPHP aside.

Turns out triphenyl phosphate is a suspected endocrine disrupting chemical. Yummy.

Let’s put the pieces together. Let me spare you the heavy-duty research time. Unless you enjoy reading scientific articles (link here!), which is fine by me.


Triphenyl phosphate is the chemical compound with the formula OP(OC6H5)3. It’s best I don’t go into organic chemistry here, it’s not my field. In short, it’s a colourless solid used as a plasticizer and fire retardant.

Eep to the fire retardant, right?

Wiki says that it “exhibits low acute toxicity by dermal or oral contact“. That sounds okay, right? The source is from 2006, and it’s looking like some organizations are researching it further. Let’s not forget, we wrote off asbestos, too. But then again, I’m not a scientist or an organic chemist, so it’s very possible the research is skewed and I just didn’t get the memo. Here’s what the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has to say.

Now to the Endocrine System! What is it?

The endocrine system consists of glands that secrete hormones into your circulatory system. These glands pump out hormones to be carried to other organs, or “target organs” in your body.

The endocrine system consists of (and please forgive me if I’ve missed anything; I’m almost certain I have): 

  • Hypothalamus
  • Pineal gland
  • Pituitary gland
  • Thyroid
  • Thymus
  • Adrenal glands
  • Pancreas
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Ovaries
  • Testes





Target organs are: 

  • The heart
  • Bone marrow
  • Skeletal tissue
  • Adipose tissue (I really know nothing about the last two)


I confess, I know very little about the human body. Cool. So your endocrine glands want to send hormones to other organs. We know something about the human body now! At least I do.

The Study on TPHP

Duke University and the Environmental Working Group conducted a study on TPHP absorption in humans. When TPHP is metabolized it becomes DPHP, meaning one of the ethyls was metabolized (or absorbed…) on the way out. The test for the study went something like this:

(1) You paint over your real nails, then do a series of pee tests over 48 hours and they test the level of DPHP in your urine

(2) You wear gloves, paint over synthetic nails, and they test your urine for DPHP levels over 48 hours

What did Duke University find out? Your nail polish can funk with your metabolism. DPHP levels in most of the participants’ urine spiked around the 10-20 hour mark post-nail polish application. Butts.

“The most recent studies are striking—they suggest that TPHP interacts with a protein central to regulating the body’s metabolism and production of fat cells. Scientists are conducting more investigations to discover whether, in fact, TPHP contributes to weight gain and obesity”.                     –Taken from EWG

Turns out, it’s not just in your nail polish, but it might be in the foam cushions on your couch.

Obviously, it’s not dangerous, it likely won’t kill you to apply nail polish regularly, but it’s made me take a cold hard look at my nail polish collection / addition and look for some “safer” alternatives.

The Good: There are some safe alternatives! Acquarella, Honeybee Gardens, or Scotch Naturals are “safe” or relatively benign water-based nail polishes. Scotch Naturals is actually working on developing a new formula, which should be coming out sometime in the new year.

The Bad: You can’t necessarily run away from TPHP by using 3, 5 or 7-free nail polishes. Check EWG’s Skin Deep site if you’re concerned.

The Ugly: Bare nails indefinitely? Is anyone else re-considering their Mani Monday? I can’t believe I just used that phrase: “Mani Monday” makes me want to barf. Who came up with this ridiculous alliteration?










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