Nail Polish For Babies: Is It Safe Or Unsafe?

Nail Polish For Babies Is It Safe Or Unsafe

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Applying nail polish to a baby’s fingernails and toenails is a fun activity. Their tiny fingers and toenails look adorable when painted. You can even twin with your baby on special occasions with matching nail polish colors. But that poses the most important question – is nail polish safe for babies?

If you are a parent who loves to see nail paint on your little one’s fingers, then it is important for you to opt for nail polishes that are non-toxic and safe for your baby. Standard nail polish meant for adults could contain chemicals that are harmful to babies. Read on to know more about the safety of nail polish for babies, the right age to use nail polish in babies, and the dos and don’ts.

Is It Safe To Paint Baby’s Nails?

The safety of nail polish for babies depends on its ingredients. Standard nail polish could contain ingredients, such as toluene, which are toxic and could cause a host of problems, including those affecting the nervous system (1). Some other potentially harmful ingredients present include plasticizers, hardening agents, and solvents.

Babies tend to put their hands in mouth,increasing the risk of accidental ingestion of nail polish and its harmful chemicals. Some nail polish chemicals, such as formaldehyde, may even cause allergic reactions, such as contact dermatitis (2). Therefore, nail polish meant for adults is potentially unsafe for the baby.

If you wish to use nail polish, you may consider those specially made for babies. These nail polishes are non-toxic, have a mild odor, free from harsh chemicals, and have a water-based composition. They are also usually free from potential allergens, such as gluten, soy, and animal-sourced by-products.

When Can You Paint Your Baby’s Fingernails?

You may paint the baby’s fingernails after they have stopped the habit of sucking at their thumbs and fingers.It reduces the risk of accidental ingestion of nail polish. Thumb and finger sucking usually stops in toddlerhood —between the ages of two and four years (3). Also, toddlers between these ages are likely to understand instructions better, and, thus, can understand that nail polish is for external use only. So, it is recommended to avoid nail painting until after your baby crosses the two-year mark.

When Can You Paint Your Baby’s Toenails?

Since toenails are harder to reach, some babies may not suck at them at all. Babies who suck at toenails may stop doing so by the age of 12 months, which is when they begin walking with support (cruising) (4). Keep a watch on your baby to see when they stop sucking their toenails. Once they do, you may apply nail polish on their toenails.

Nail Polish Chemicals That Might Be Toxic For Your Baby

A nail polish meant for adults could contain several toxic compounds. The following are some of the notable potentially harmful chemicals often present in standard nail polish.

  1. Toluene: It is the most commonly used solvent and stabilizer in nail polishes. Long-term exposure to toluene could lead to respiratory issues and nervous system disorders and developmental issues (1). Exposure to even minute amounts of the compound may induce headache and dizziness.
  1. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP): DBP is an odorless emulsifying agent that ensures the flowing consistency of the nail polish. It is considered carcinogenic, and prolonged exposure to this chemical may increase the risk of liver and kidney disorders (5).  It has also been linked to reproductive issues. The chemical is banned in several countries.
  1. Formaldehyde: It is often added to nail polish to aid its hardening. Formaldehyde also prevents the flaking of dried nail polish. This chemical is considered carcinogenic (nasal and lung cancers) and is an irritant to the eye and respiratory tract. It may also lead to skin irritation (6).
  1. Camphor: It provides the nail polish a glossy look for a long time. The compound is considered a neurological toxin. The ingestion of even small quantities of the compound could increase the risk of disorientation and seizures among babies (7).
  1. Triphenyl phosphate (TPHP): It is added to nail polish as a plasticizer, which is a compound that keeps the nail polish thick yet flowy (8). The compound could increase the risk of skin allergy on skin contact. Also, accidental ingestion may affect the liver, kidneys, and nervous system (9).
  1. Phthalates: These are added as plasticizers to nail polishes (10). The compound could cause skin irritation and may adversely affect various organs, such as the liver, kidneys, and lungs (11).

Nail polish meant for babies is free from these compounds and thus safe. Nevertheless, check for the ingredients on the nail polish bottle. You may even contact the manufacturer of nail polish for babies to know more about the product’s specific ingredients.

Dos And Don’ts While Painting Your Baby’s Nails

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you have decided to paint your baby’s nails.


  • Keep the baby still to avoid accidental rubbing of paint on their bodies.
  • Avoid accidentally dripping the nail polish on the baby’s clothes to minimize skin contact.
  • Apply nail polish in a well-ventilated room so that the nail polish fumes and fragrance does not persist for too long.
  • Try choosing light or transparent colors as they might not tempt your babies to suck their fingers.
  • Nail polish application should be reserved for special occasions. Polish-free period allows nails to regain their normal color, moisture, and texture.


  • Do not keep the nail polishes within the baby’s reach.
  • Let the paint dry before you leave the baby. Do not leave them immediately after applying nail polish.
  • Do not let the paint come in contact with the skin around the nails and the fingers.
  • Repeated application of even non-toxic nail polish could damage a baby’s delicate nails. Hence, do not apply nail polish frequently.

How To Paint A Baby’s Nails?

Here are some tips to follow to have a smooth nail painting experience with your baby.

  • Place the baby on a high chair before application. It will allow easier access to the fingernails and toenails. Place a toy in front of the baby or talk to them while applying nail polish. Apply to one hand at a time. Hold the hand while the nail polish dries to prevent accidental ingestion. Older toddlers could also be taught not to ingest the nail polish.
  • Paint the nails while the baby is asleep. It could be a good option if your baby often attempts to put their fingers in the mouth immediately after application of the nail polish. Do make sure you place a cover beneath their nails to prevent your bed sheets from getting dirty.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why doesn’t nail polish stay on my baby’s nails?

The water-based nail polish meant for babies tends to chip-off sooner than standard nail polish meant for adults. Also, children tend to be active with no regard for their painted nails. Thus, the paint may not stay for long and fall off soon.

2. Can babies go to nail salons?

You can take your baby to salons that specialize in painting a baby’s nails. Salons meant for grown-ups tend to have nail polishes and other products that are unsuitable for babies and toddlers.

If you love to see your little one’s nails painted, then make sure that the nail polish you choose is free from any toxic chemicals. There are several baby-friendly nail polish brands in the market that use natural ingredients. Some manufacturers even guarantee that their products are free from a number of key toxic chemicals by labeling their products as three-free, five-free, or seven-free. Nevertheless, always do adequate research before picking a nail polish for babies and check its ingredients before application.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Toxic Substances Portal – Toluene; Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
2. A look at the effects of nail polish on nail health and safety; Harvard Medical School
3. Cameron Blair, Finger Sucking in Children; John Hopkins Medicine
4. Important Milestones: Your Child By One Year; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
5. Dibutyl phthalate; National Library of Medicine
6. Formaldehyde; American Cancer Society
7. Samrendra Narayan and Nishith Singh, Camphor poisoning—An unusual cause of seizure; National Center for Biotechnology Information
8. Emma Mendelsohn et al., Nail Polish as a Source of Exposure to Triphenyl Phosphate; National Center for Biotechnology Information
9. Triphenyl phosphate; New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services
10. Nail Care Products; U.S. Food & Drug Administration
11. Phthalates and DEHP; Health Care Without Harm


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Dr. Pooja Parikh

Dr. Pooja Parikh is a pediatrician whose medical journey has taken her from Rajkot (PDUMC) to Vadodara (SSGH) to Mumbai (Hinduja & Breachcandy Hospital). Currently she is actively involved in critical, intensive and general care of 0 to 18-year-olds in the port town of Gandhidham, where she was born and brought up. She believes that a doctor should be involved... more

Rohit Garoo

Rohit Garoo is a zoologist-botanist turned writer with over 8 years of experience in content writing, content marketing, and copywriting. He has also done an MBA in marketing and human resources and worked in the domains of market research and e-commerce. Rohit writes topics related to health, wellness and development of babies. His articles featured on several notable websites, including... more