Sunshine State Solutions + Services

Addicted To Pedis? Nail Doc Dana Stern Says Go Ahead + Lacquer Up (With These Stay-Healthy Guidelines)

Addicted To Pedis? Nail Doc Dana Stern Says Go Ahead + Lacquer Up (With These Stay-Healthy Guidelines)

Recently, I cranked-out a story for The Wall Street Journal about the rising tide of clean + green nail lacquers. If you haven't been keeping up with all the latest developments on Planet Toxin-Free Polish, I'm thrilled to inform you that we've moved waaaaaay beyond "3-Free" formulas that contain none of the biggest baddies (dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene). Today, you can find formulas that are 9- and 10-Free.

We're talking seriously safe polish. 

The need for fewer harmful ingredients in a product that sits on our hands + feet for weeks at a pop isn't up for debate; the scientific / medical data is plentiful on that topic. 

But where dermatologists + nail experts can cancel each other out, opinion-wise, is on the subject of whether it's harmful to our nail "beds" to go straight from one mani or pedi to the next. Some feel it is, some feel it isn't.

Happily, dermatologist Dana Stern - or Dr. Dana as she is more readily known - is in the "go for it" camp. As the creator of a 9-Free polish formula that's getting huge buzz, Dr. Dana is obviously an advocate of healthier nails. And, according to Dr. D, the good news for us well-groomed FBP-ers is that healthy nails and serial pedis can easily co-exist. 

Before I lift the curtain on our in-depth Q+A, here's a cute pic of Dr. Dana:


FBP: A lot of women in Florida suffer from what I call "pedicure addiction" - it's one after another for basically the entire year. What potential harm might come from never giving your toenails a chance to "breathe"?

DR. DANA: Toenails don’t need to “breathe.” In fact that is a common myth. Nails derive their oxygen and nutrients from the blood stream and not the air. Frequent pedicures do not necessarily cause damage to everyone. If you are enjoying your polish routine without damage then keep enjoying! 

FBP: Well that's good news! Still, in your practice, I'm sure you've seen some "serial pedi" patients who have developed issues from refusing to take a break from nail polish. How have you helped nurse them back to health?

DR. DANA: When (basic polish) pedicures do cause visible changes and damage to the nail, the consequences are usually seen as:

A) Brittle nails - Polish removers are solvents and tend to be very drying and dehydrating to the nail. Constant use of remover can lead to dry, brittle nails (weak, peeling, easily breaking).   Note, if you are tolerating polish and your nails are looking healthy then it is fine to keep applying. 

B) Keratin granulations - These occur often after wearing polish for a prolonged period. (Think that cranberry red from Christmas that you don't get around to removing until your March holiday.) When polish is removed, the superficial layers of nail cells are also removed, leaving uneven, white, rough patches. These white patches and surface changes will grow out and fade with time - this can take weeks to months - or you can expedite the treatment process with my 3-Step Nail Renewal System.

C) Nail yellowing - The most common cause of nail yellowing is polish. Here's why:  

  1. The porosity of the nail is variable. Certain people have more porous nails and are just more prone to pigment migration and thus yellowing.
  2. Polish remover makes the pigments migrate and leach. This is why you may be seeing more yellowing with the no-chip / gel manicures, which require 10-minute soaks in acetone for removal.
  3. Dye content - not all polish dyes are alike. The darker the color, the more pigment.  Yellowing is an issue with all brands. The issue is more shade-dependent (i.e., more common with darker colors) than brand-dependent. But it can also happen with light colors.
  4. Not using base coat or a good quality base coat. A good base coat shields the nail.

FBP: Are your formulas "9-free" or "10-free"?

DR. DANA: Our nail color, Hydrating base coat and Quick Dry Top Coat are all 9-Free.

FBP: What were the most recent egregious chemicals to get the boot? 

DR. DANA: Here's the total list of what isn't in our formula - and why: 

Formaldehyde: Used as a preservative in cosmetics. A known carcinogen that is also linked to asthma, neurotoxicity, and developmental toxicity.

Phthalates  (DBP, DEHP, DEP and others): A class of plasticizing chemicals used to make products more pliable. Phthalates disrupt the endocrine system and may cause birth defects.

Toluene: A volatile petrochemical solvent that is toxic to the respiratory system. Can cause birth defects and possibly carcinogenic.  

Formaldehyde Resin: Helps polish adhere. It's an allergen. 

Camphor: Used as aplasticizer in nail polish.  Inhalation can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea, and seizures.

Triphenyl Phosphate: Another plasticizer. It's used to make polish flexible and durable, but it is also an endocrine disruptor and possible marine pollutant.

Xylene: This is a solvent that keeps your nail polish from getting gloppy; it's also a known allergen and possible carcinogen. It's a known human nervous system and respiratory toxic that can be irritating to skin, eyes and lungs.

Ethyl Tosylamide = Benzenesulfonamide: A film-forming plasticizer. In Europe, ET is considered to be a sulfonamide with antibiotic properties. And based on the prohibition of sulfonamides in cosmetics, it may not be used in beauty and personal care products marketed in Europe.

Parabens (methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl- and others): This class of preservatives is commonly used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Parabens are endocrine (or hormone) disruptors, which may alter important hormone mechanisms in our bodies.

FBP: Scary!

DR. DANA: It can be. That's why I stay informed. I have been working closely with the lab where I formulate my polish since 2008. As an expert in the field of nails, I have always been very interested in nail cosmetic product chemistry. And over the years, as certain common ingredients in nail polishes have become questionable, I began reading the research to better understand the concerns.

Toxins are everywhere and it becomes extremely challenging to pinpoint which toxins are causing which issues when it comes to beauty and personal care products because there are so many variables. As a physician and someone with a science background, I feel that beauty products should never pose health risks. We are talking about products that we use repetitively on our bodies and that we inhale regularly and so I view it as my responsibility to formulate without anything that I view as questionable. 

Most beauty companies that are producing nail polish do not have scientists or doctors at the helm. That is what makes my brand unique. Anyone can look up trendy questionable ingredients on the EWG website, but that is not enough. I read the actual scientific literature.  I read the studies that are referenced on the EWG site and do literature searches in the medical and scientific literature to read the studies and then decide if the concern is valid. 

There are some ingredients that I left out of my nail polish formula that are questionable. Meaning: there is a good possibility that they will prove to be acceptable. But I am not in the business of taking chances. And until there is more data, we figured out how to formulate without them. 

FBP: Along with "biggest baddies" - dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene - what other harmful ingredients do you really recommend women steer clear of? In other words, what are your "non-negotiables"?

DR. DANA: Great question. As a brand our products are free of artificial fragrance, dyes, parabens and any animal derived raw ingredients. 

FBP: Honestly speaking, is there a performance trade-off with "free" formulas? Can women expect them to last as long? And stay chip-free?

DR. DANA: That is the challenge and why our formula took six years to develop and is considered to be “next-generation.”  I wanted the formulas to be free of the 9 most concerning, questionable ingredients but it was important to me that the formulas perform like a best-in-class salon quality manicure. Rich color, gorgeous shine, amazing wear.  I am not just a doctor, I am a woman who loves color and polish!

FBP: This is a loaded question: What's your stance on gel formulas? Do you file them under "avoid at all cost"? 

DR. DANA: Nope, the answer is surprising. I like gels for certain circumstances. They are great for nail biters as they help many of my patients to stop biting. I also think they can be great on occasion for weddings and travel as a long-lasting, chip-free option. 

The issues come with the removal. Also always remember that the "curing" light is in the UV-A spectrum and can cause photo-aging so sun protection is a must! 

FBP: Now let's talk ridges. I have them, and have all my life. Is it possible to be super-healthy and still have ridges?

DR. DANA: Ridges (onychorrhexis) are often genetic and age related. They are considered to be a type of brittle nail and are not usually a sign of internal health issues.

As we age, our nail physiology actually changes as part of the nail growth plate (nail matrix) begins to thin. This phenomenon results in the development of ridges along the long access of the nail. 

I always say that ridges are like wrinkles in your nail. Compromised circulation or less efficient blood flow to our extremities can also contribute to nail ridging. These ridges are called onychorrhexis, a clinical sign of brittle nails. Interestingly we see the effects of circulatory compromise in patients who are paralyzed on one side and I have even observed this in patients who have one arm in a cast for an extended period. The extremity that has a compromised range of motion will often have brittle nails while the opposite, functional extremity will have normal nails.

My Nail Renewal System is very effective for ridges. In our independent study, 97% of women said their nails were more even with less ridges after using the system twice. If any of your readers would like to see those study results, here's the link

FBP: Are ridges hereditary? I vaguely remember that my mother was "ridge-y" too.

DR. DANA: Very much so! We did a study on brittle nails that was published in JAAD (Journal of American Academy of Dermatology). Again, here's the link.

We determined that family history was significantly associated with the likelihood of having brittle nails.

FBP: If women could make one lifestyle shift  - okay, maybe two or three lifestyle shifts - to improve the overall health of their nails, what would those be? 


1. No cuticle removal

2. No nail biting

3. No aggressive cleaning under the nails with a tool

4. Use polishes with superior formulas, not what is cheap or trendy. There is no reason to compromise your health.

FBP: Thank you! Time for a pedi with one of your great colors!



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