Is It Safe to Paint Baby's Nails? The Truth You Need to Know

Are you looking at your baby’s toes and thinking they need some color? Or do you have identical newborn twins and perhaps need some help telling them apart?

For many women, nail polish is in our genes (not quite, but you get what I’m saying). Decorating your little one’s nails with nail polish can sometimes seem irresistible when you have a pretty little girl in your arms.

However, doing so, you’re likely met with a storm of judgmental comments from people, even other moms. Some will probably claim you’re poisoning your baby. But is painting your baby’s nails really that bad?

Is Nail Polish Safe for Babies?

Nail polish isn’t unsafe for babies, per se, as long as they don’t put it in their mouth. Until now, no studies have proven that using nail polish can directly lead to illness. So it’s really up to you to decide whether or not it’s worth the risk.

But I will say this — a baby’s fingers, and even toes, tend to gravitate toward their mouth every chance they get. This is not an easy behavior to stop since it’s a natural part of their development. However, if your little one is older, around the toddler years, it might be easier to make them understand.

As a mom of a growing girl, I remember the first time someone applied a dot of polish to her clean fingers. I freaked! Nail polish can contain an array of chemicals, some of which are endocrine disruptors (source).

These chemicals can be harmful to a baby’s sensitive system, as it’s still developing. When babies begin to investigate the world around them, they tend to start by chewing their hands. This may cause them to swallow some nail polish fragments.

I have to admit, as soon as my baby was a bit older, I would apply a thin coat of nail polish sometimes. My little one was so happy to have some color on her nails and wouldn’t allow anyone to touch her hands in case it wore off.

Lower The Risk

It’s important you invest in some “safe” nail polish. There really is such a thing called nail polish poisoning. You can get this from swallowing the actual polish, and also from breathing in large amounts of fumes (source).

Typical Chemicals Found in Nail Polish

Nail polish has been a must-have cosmetic item since it was invented. Although it is pretty, inside the small bottle can be several potentially toxic chemicals.

Here are three examples:

1. Toluene

Although nail polish manufacturers are beginning to use less toluene, you can still expect to find this solvent in some brands. This ingredient is also used in paint thinners, cleaning solutions, artificial fragrances, and other products (source).

When companies use toluene in nail polish, they aren’t allowed to use a concentration of more than 50 percent. Fortunately, there are little, if any, reports of adverse effects from simply applying this to one’s nails.

But in saying this, prolonged exposure to toluene, like inhaling large amounts of fumes, can lead to problems with the nervous system. It can also cause upper respiratory issues (source).

2. Phthalates

Phthalates are a collection of chemicals you can expect to see in hundreds of products. Companies use these in many things, from lubricating oils and nail polish to toys, detergents, and food packaging (source).

This chemical has, for a long time, been a regular in baby products, such as baby powder, oil, soap, and shampoo. There are no reports of side effects from using such a product on your baby. Experts can trace it from a urine sample, but there are no health concerns.

The concern of this chemical comes when using it while expecting. When tracking it in an animal lab test, specialists found links to congenital disabilities and developmental problems (source).

3. Formaldehyde

Manufacturers use formaldehyde in nail polish as a hardener, to prevent it from chipping. Companies making building products also use it (source).

Formaldehyde has been shown to cause skin irritation as well as allergic reactions (source).

This chemical is in various types of nail polish brands, but generally under a different name. You may recognize it as methylene glycol or formalin.

Still, it’s something to be conscious of, since some people are allergic to formaldehyde. Exposure can, in such cases, lead to adverse reactions, especially with young babies.

The same goes for long-term exposure, where the chances for respiratory problems and some types of cancer increases.

Other Considerations

Keeping nail polish away from your baby’s mouth may sound like the best thing to do. But unfortunately, little hands always end up there sooner or later.

One thing you could do to avoid this is just apply nail polish on the toes. I know, those little tootsies are bound to reach the mouth eventually, too.

But if you can’t wait to paint baby’s nails, this might be the best option (just keep an eye out for feet going near the mouth).

The next thing I will mention is your own nails. If you decide to apply nail polish, make sure it is completely dry before your little one gets a hold of your fingers.

Many moms opt for applying a non-toxic nail polish instead, for at least the first six months.

If you do decide to apply paint to your baby’s nails, then:

  • Do: Use a non-toxic polish.
  • Do: Give the nails time to breathe before reapplying.
  • Don’t: Let it stay on their nails for longer than one or two days.
  • Don’t: Apply it while they are awake, especially if your baby is small. Sleeping babies are easier to handle, so it will make the application time much quicker.

Toxic-Free Nail Polish

Fortunately, for all of us nail-polish lovers, there are safer options on the market. Some brands have answered our prayers and granted us polishes without the toxic chemicals.

Take a look at these, for example:

1. Karma Organic Natural Nail Polish

Karma Organic really knows how to please us. This nail polish is free of toxins, namely the ones mentioned above, and it is cruelty-free, too! This company delivers a quality polish that is durable, even for moms with toddlers.

It’s available in a variety of shades — my favorite is the color Sand Between My Toes, it screams summer.

2. Piggy Paint Non-Toxic Nail Polish

Piggy Paint nail polish is a good choice for your little one. It’s water-based and 100 percent chemical-free, so it’s safe to use, even for babies. The polish is made in the U.S. and comes in different colors, with four in a pack.

I bought some for my little one, and it was an absolute favorite! However, it takes time to dry when applying a second layer, and chips off quickly. Some moms suggest using a hair dryer between applications, which seems to help remedy both these issues.

More On This Topic
Mother cutting baby's nails with baby nail clippersWhat are the Best Baby Nail Clippers?

Paint Away

Although occasionally applying a thin coat on the nails is unlikely to cause cancer, nail polish is not the best thing for your baby. The chemicals that many contain are enough to melt through Styrofoam.

But as long as your little one doesn’t eat it, painting baby’s nails should be safe for special occasions. However, if you can, try to get your hands on one of the non-toxic nail polish brands I mentioned above. These I can highly recommend.

Do you have a preferred non-toxic nail polish you use for your little one? Feel free to share any hints and tips with us below. And please share this article with other parents you know!

Mother cutting baby's nails with baby nail clippers
What are the Best Baby Nail Clippers?
Photo of baby toenails
Baby Having Trouble with Ingrown Toenails? Here’s What to Do
Mother trimming her baby's nails
Trimming Baby’s Nails? The Ultimate How-To Guide You Need to Read

Leave a Comment

By submitting a comment you acknowledge that any response you may recieve is for informational purposes only and does not constitute as professional medical advice.