Environmental impact of nail polish remover

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This article was considered for deletion at Wikipedia on December 24 2016. This is a backup of Wikipedia:Environmental_impact_of_nail_polish_remover. All of its AfDs can be found at Wikipedia:Special:PrefixIndex/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Environmental_impact_of_nail_polish_remover, the first at Wikipedia:Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Environmental_impact_of_nail_polish_remover. Purge

Nail polish remover is a solvent that removes nail polish, acrylic nails, and gel nail polish which comes in many forms, such as bottles or pre-soaked pads. The bottles of liquid nail polish remover is often poured onto a cotton ball or pad and applied to the nail polish. If nail polish remover is being used to remove acrylic or gel nails, then it is often placed in a bowl for the nails to be soaked in. Its main ingredient is acetone. Acetone is sometimes the only ingredient in nail polish removers. Acetone is a colorless, flammable solvent with a strong odor and is highly miscible and volatile in water. According to the Federal Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990, nail polish remover's main ingredient, acetone, is not considered a hazardous air pollutant.[1] Acetone is commonly used as an alternative to hazardous air pollutants in industries as well.[2] Furthermore, under the Clean Water Act, acetone is not considered a significantly dangerous pollutant.[3] Nail services is a growing industry. In 2015, the United States' population spent $8.51 billion on nail services[4] and there are about 129,682 nail salons in the United States.[4] On average, nail salon businesses spend about $251 per month on nail salon supplies,[4] which includes nail polish remover. Therefore, the use of nail polish remover is significant which means its waste is also significant.

As stated, nail polish remover is typically used by applying it to a cotton ball or pad and rubbed onto the nail to remove the nail polish. After the nail polish remover completes its objective, it is thrown away. Nail salons remove acrylic nails by placing the clients' hands into a bowl of nail polish remover to soak off. Due to acetone's high volatility, nail polish remover evaporates quickly which will occur when the nail polish remover soaked cotton balls or pads are disposed of, and while the nail polish remover is soaking off acrylic nails. This occurs frequently throughout the day in nail salons across the country, and even the world, and these events expose more acetone into the environment.

Nail polish remover has the ability to enter bodies of water and soil after entering landfills or by precipitation, such as rain or snow. However, due to acetone's high volatility, most of it that enters the bodies of water and soil will evaporate again and re-enter the atmosphere. Not all of the acetone molecules will evaporate again, and so, when acetone remains in the bodies of water or soil, a reaction will occur. Nail polish remover evaporates easily because acetone's intermolecular forces are weak. An acetone molecule can't attract other acetone molecules easily because its hydrogens are not slightly positive. The only force that holds acetone molecules together is its permanent dipoles which are weaker than hydrogen bonds.[5]

Since nail polish remover is a solvent, it will dissolve in water. When acetone dissolves in water, it hydrogen bonds with water. The more nail polish remover that enters the hydrosphere will increase the concentration of acetone and then increase the concentration of the solution created when acetone and water bonds. If enough nail polish remover is disposed, it can reach the lethal dose level for aquatic life.

Nail polish remover can also enter the lithosphere by landfills and by precipitation. However, it will not bind to the soil. Microorganisms in the soil will decompose acetone.[6] The consequence of microorganisms decomposing acetone is the risk it has to cause oxygen depletion in bodies of water. The more acetone readily available for microorganism decomposition leads to more microorganisms reproduced and thus oxygen depletion because more microorganisms use up the available oxygen.

When nail polish remover evaporates, acetone enters the atmosphere in the gaseous phase. In the gaseous phase, acetone can undergo photolysis and breakdown into carbon monoxide, methane, and ethane.[7] When temperatures are between 100 - 350 degrees Celsius, the following mechanism[8] occurs:

(CH3)2CO + hv → CH3 + CH3CO


CH3+ (CH3)2CO → CH4 + CH2COCH3

2CH3 → C2H6

A second pathway that nail polish remover can enter in the atmosphere is reacting with hydroxyl radicals. When acetone reacts with hydroxyl radicals, its main product is methylglyoxal.[9] Methylglyoxal is an organic compound that is a by-product of many metabolic pathways. It is an intermediate precursor for many advanced glycation end-products, that are formed for diseases such as diabetes or neurodegenerative diseases. The following reaction occurs:

(CH3)2CO + ·OH → CH3C(O)OH + ·CH3

CH3C(O)OH + ·CH3→ CH3C(O)COH + 3H+

In conclusion, nail polish remover has the ability to enter the environment in many ways. Nail polish remover can easily enter the soil when disposed of after use and becomes a part of landfills. It can also easily enter the atmosphere due to its ability to evaporate quickly. When it enters the atmosphere, most likely photolysis can occur with acetone and produce carbon monoxide, methane, and ethane. If not photolysis, than nail polish remover can react with hydroxyl radicals. Once it has evaporated, it can re-enter the soil and enter bodies of water from various ways of precipitation. It is seen that nail polish remover, although a small common household product, has the ability to impact the environment. When the average use of nail polish remover for one person is multiplied by the population of the world, the scale for its environmental significance is greater.


  1. EPA,OAR, US. "What are Hazardous Air Pollutants?" (in en). https://www.epa.gov/haps/what-are-hazardous-air-pollutants. 
  2. "Acetone Regulations and Pollution Prevention: What You Should Know". http://web.epa.state.oh.us/opp/solvents/fact34.html. 
  3. EPA,OA,OP,ORPM,RMD, US. "History of the Clean Water Act" (in en). https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/history-clean-water-act. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Everything You Need to Know about the Nail Industry". Nails Magazine. http://files.nailsmag.com/Feature-Articles-in-PDF/NABB2015-16stats.pdf. 
  5. "Intermolecular Forces and Solutions". https://employees.csbsju.edu/hjakubowski/classes/Chem%20and%20Society/IMF_Solutions/olIMF_solutions.htm. 
  6. "Toxilogical Profile for Acetone". Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. May 1994. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp21.pdf. 
  7. Cundall, R. B.; Davies, A. S. (1 January 1966). "The Mechanism of the Gas Phase Photolysis of Acetone". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences 290 (1423): 563–582. JSTOR 2415445. 
  8. Darwent, B. deB.; Allard, M. J.; Hartman, M. F.; Lange, L. J. (1960-12-01). "The Photolysis of Acetone". The Journal of Physical Chemistry 64 (12): 1847–1850. Template:Citation error. ISSN 0022-3654. 
  9. "Toxicological Profile for Acetone - Potential for Human Exposure". https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp21-c5.pdf.