Is nail polish the new cigarettes? Study finds chemical in nail polish can cause infertility

Nail polish and other household objects could be causing fertility problems, according to a new Duke University and Harvard University study. 

Researchers at the two universities found that flame retardant chemicals in common products, such as nail polish and upholstered furniture, could pose risks to women's fertility. 

The study showed increased exposure to these chemicals was linked to adverse results in In Vitro Fertilization, which is when an egg is fertilized outside of the body. 

Researchers took the archived urine samples of 211 women who had participated in IVF treatments and analyzed them for concentrations of organophosphate flame-retardants, called PFRs.

According to the study, the more a woman had been exposed to these chemicals, the less likely she was to have successful embryo implantation, fertilization, pregnancy and live birth.

Heather Stapleton, professor at Duke and a researcher in the study, said PFRs can be found in everyday items such as furniture, car seats, gym mats, baby products and nail polish.

Stapleton said as society continues to shift from using natural products to synthetic products and electronics, the concern for flammability increases as does the need for flame retardants.  

But avoiding PFRs isn’t easy.

“With many of these chemicals, it’s almost impossible to know where your exposure is coming from or how to reduce it,” Stapleton said. 

She said most products do not have labels indicating whether they contain PFRs.

Courtney Carignan, who conducted the study as a research fellow at Harvard, said in an email that washing hands with soap and water is a good way to reduce personal exposure to PFRs because they can enter the body through accidental dust indigestion.

Carignan said the study only represents women undergoing IVF treatment but that it may apply to all women in general. 

Stapleton said the effect of PFRs on the population at large is something the group at Harvard is interested in studying in the future.

She said although it can’t be proven that exposure to nail polish in particular is causing problems in fertility, women undergoing IVF may choose to avoid painting their nails in case it is causal.

The study’s findings add to evidence indicating a need to reduce the use of flame retardants and identify safer alternatives, Carignan said. 

Stapleton said the study could be highlighting the need to be more concerned and aware of products that one encounters on a daily basis, which is a larger issue. 

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