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After dealing with one top coat failure after another, I decided to investigate and compare top coats online before purchasing another one. I stayed up late one night scouring nail and beauty blogs, reviews websites, and forums for the best and long-lasting top coat out there. One name was ubiquitous: Seche Vite. Reviews from all over the internet lauded the top coat as THE best. Everything I read about it blew any other top coat I had ever heard of out of the water. Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt to finally come across a seemingly perfect top coat. I was ready to run out and buy some at 1 in the morning, I was so thrilled.

The Holy Grail of top coats?

Wearing a satisfactory job-is-finally-done smile as I was about to close out the last website I was on, I read a final comment that smacked that smug smile right off my face. It basically stated that Seche Vite can cause birth defects and shouldn’t be used.

Uh, say what?!

After sitting back and muttering “ain’t that a bitch”, I wanted to find out exactly how and why this top coat was dangerous. Apparently on the back of each box of Seche Vite there is a disclaimer that states: “WARNING! This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.” I went to the store to check it out for myself the next day, and it did in fact state that on the back of the box.

Ok… Now what? What exactly is in this top coat that causes so-called birth defects?

Thinking I would find a quick answer in a few minutes that night, I actually spent a few days digging around to find an answer. I found that the deeper I looked, the more questions I had. I’ve narrowed down the most pertinent questions I had concerning toluene, and the best answers that I found. There are links at the bottom of this post if you would like further reading concerning this matter. It’s extensive!

If you have ever read the fine print on your nail polish bottles, you’ll usually see some variation of the words “formaldehyde, DBP and toluene free.” These ingredients are known to cause or could cause potential health problems. Toluene is the only ingredient out of those three to be an ingredient in Seche Vite.

So what exactly is toluene? Why exactly should we be wary of it? Why is California only mentioned in the warning?!

What is toluene?

Toluene is a solvent found in common products such as paint, paint thinner, nail polish, nail glue, and adhesives among other things. It is used in nail polish to help it apply smoothly to the nail.

How exactly does nail polish expose us to it?

From the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website:

“Toluene enters the environment when you use materials that contain it, such as
paints, paint thinners, adhesives, fingernail polish, and gasoline. As you work
with these materials, the toluene evaporates and becomes mixed with the air you
breathe.

Why should we be wary of toluene?

Also from the CDC website:

“A serious health concern is that toluene may have an effect on your brain.
Toluene can cause headaches and sleepiness, and can impair your ability to think
clearly. Whether or not toluene does this to you depends on the amount you take
in, how long you are exposed, and your genetic susceptibility and age. Low to
moderate, day-afterday exposure in your workplace can cause tiredness,
confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, and loss of
appetite. These symptoms usually disappear when exposure is stopped. You may
experience some hearing and color vision loss after long-term daily exposure to
toluene in the workplace.”

As far as the warning concerning birth defects the CDC states:

“Some studies in people have shown reproductive effects, such as an increased
risk of spontan¬eous abortions, from exposure to toluene in the workplace.
However, other factors, such as exposure to other chemicals, smoking and alcohol
use, may have affected the results of the studies, so it is not possible to say
whether toluene has reproductive effects in people.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states in its manual Protecting The Health of Nail Salon Workers , about toluene:

“Overexposure may cause irritation to eyes and nose, weakness, exhaustion, confusion,
inappropriate feelings of happiness, dizziness, headache, dilated pupils, runny
eyes, anxiety, muscle fatigue, inability to sleep, feeling of
numbness/tingling, skin rash, and in more serious cases of overexposure or
intentional abuse, liver and kidney damage.”

Why is there a specific warning from the State of California on the box of Seche Vite?

According to the Cosmeticsinfo.org website:

“The California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65) requires the Governor of California to maintain a list of chemicals “known to the state” to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Toluene is among the ingredients identified by the state of California under Proposition 65 for identification in labeling. “

Should I refrain from buying nail products that contain toluene?

The article mentioned above from the Cosmeticsinfo.org website continues to state that:

“The state has established a No Significant Risk Level (NSRL) for Toluene when used in nail products. These NSRLs are sometimes referred to as Proposition 65 “Safe Harbors”.  A study and assessment of the risk posed by the use of Toluene in nail products has been conducted under the auspices of state attorney general’s office and they have determined that its use in nail care products is below the NSRL for consumers. “

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) website reiterates that:

“Toluene was reviewed by the CIR Expert Panel in 1987, when the Panel determined
that it was safe for cosmetic use in nail products when limited to
concentrations no greater than 50 percent. The Panel re-evaluated the safety of
toluene in 2005 and confirmed its original conclusion.”

So there we have it. Information from varying, reputable sources concerning toluene. My conclusions on the matter  is that copious amounts of toluene or repeated exposure over a long period of time is harmful to our health (isn’t that true with any substance though), but that the small amounts found in nail polish is relatively safe.

I believe that most nail polish companies are trying to take a proactive step by eliminating any potentially harmful ingredients from their products, and I can’t fault them for that.

I’m still undecided about whether or not I will purchase Seche Vite, but I’m not against it as I was. Hopefully this information will help you make an informed decision whether you decide to purchase Seche Vite (or any other nail product with toluene), or not.

Sources and links:

FDA

EPA

CDC

Cosmeticsinfo.org

Comments on: "Seche Vite and Toluene: Harmless or Harmful?" (33)

  1. https://www.idonails.com/shop/top-coat-16-oz/?osCsid=9472fa838142b483dbc30fc8c547328e

    The best stuff I have tried so far.

    http://theedgeofsanity.org/?p=2654 This blog page talks all about it and I had to try it.

    The shipping prices suck but I honestly get tired of my manicure before it chips. The only issues is that sometimes WnW cream black wants to shrink a little bit. Nowhere near how much the Seche does. Plus the Seche I could peel off in a big sheet after a few days.

    If you dont want to do the shipping the next best thing is from Sally Beauty, the Beauty Secrets Top Coat. I did have a bad experience because I got a bad batch from them that did not dry quickly. The first bottle I bought I loved. I bought 3 because they had a buy 2 get one free sale when my first bottle ran out. All 3 took forever to dry so buyer beware. The 2.5oz bottles were around 5.99. Also toluene free.

  2. Thanks for gathering this info!! I’m pregnant and this is so helpful.

  3. Thank you so much for doing all this research so I didn’t have to! I had exactly the same experience as you in the first paragraph, but bought a bottle online, used it, and only read the box while waiting for it to dry.
    I had a feeling it might not be too scary, but thought I’d better check, so here I am.
    Thanks again,
    O.E.

  4. hyunjoo82 said:

    Thanks so much for this “nutshell version” on toluene. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am just not going to worry about the chemical and just use it. Then I saw this blog and was re-assuring.

    I am in love with this product because I hated waiting for my nails to dry. Now with fast drying, I can experiment with my plethora of colors in my collection (also helps keep my nails stronger and longer). I just ordered Seche Restore to restore my thickening Seche Vite but I use it so often that my bottle is almost 1/4 gone (I bought it a week ago) and it’s not really thickening yet. I tried a few fast dry top coats and this was my favorite. I usually don’t wear a color for too long so I haven’t experienced the chipping or peeling (I actually tried to peel it off myself today and I couldnt, haha… and the shrinkage they talk about is very minimal to me so I don’t mind).

    Some tips though… you don’t have to apply the nail color all perfectly smooth because Seche Vite can help smoothen out any imperfections. I find it best to put Seche Vite on when the nail polish is just dry enough that you can put your lip to the paint surface and it won’t smudge. They say you can put it on when it’s still “wet” but I feel it does much better when it still dries a good 3-5mins before putting it on. Use quick soft full brush strokes and apply a generous amount to the nail and it just evens out on its own. I find if I take my time and go slow, it increases the chance of it streaking/clumping. It just takes a bit of practice but I now don’t have to wait like 2 hours for a base coat, nail color x2, and top coat to dry. I am literally out the door in 15-20 mins and in about an hour, it’s dry enough where you don’t have to worry about it imprinting anything. I go to bed at night after using it and I go to bed an hour later, wake up the next morning and no more fabric imprints on my nail surface! :)

    I am in health care and I just know I’m exposed to much more harmful things in my workplace (like bacteria, viruses, chemo & other toxins). Toluene doesn’t scare me, especially since it’s in small amounts and I just make sure I’m in a well ventilated area–maybe even outside or next to an open window or have the ceiling fan on.

  5. [...] Vite Fast Dry Top Coat, but because it has Toluene, a chemical that can be harmful (here’s a great blog post discussing it), I’ve decided that I can stand to minimize risk.  I currently have Sally Hansen Insta-dry [...]

  6. Thank you so much for all this info you gathered. My friend told me about this top coat so of course I had to try it!! I’m trying to get pregnant so I was a little hesitant to run out and buy it after hearing about the warning on the bottle, but after reading your blog and all the info you have presented I’m a little more confidant to use it.

    Thanks again, Faby

  7. thanks so much for this post – i just noticed the warning note on the back of the bottle that I’ve been using in the last couple of months.

    I was worried and I had confused messages with some users saying the warning label was OTT. But a warning is still a warning so i’ve decided to stop using this.

  8. Such helpful research! I think I’ll get it and use it in a very well ventilated area :)

  9. SO helpful! Thank you for this!! All the information from all over the web in one reading! I will buy the top coat after reading this. I’ll just be sure not to drink it ;)

  10. Thanks for sharing your research! I’ve been taking the risk (but holding my breath when applying the top coat), and going with the theory that it wouldn’t be so widely available if it was *proven* to be harmful. Obviously this isn’t the best approach to take with everything, but I’m glad to hear that your research turned out some information saying that low quantities shouldn’t be too harmful.

  11. Thank you for making the warnings so clear. I wasn’t bothered about myself as I am past trying for anymore babies, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t harming my teenage daughter.

    If you still haven’t bought this top coat, go for it, it’s the best thing for busy ladies who want fabulous nails. I love the stuff!!

  12. Thanks for doing all the research!! I kind of thought that it wasn’t a huge concern. The same warnings are in the jetways of airports in CA.

  13. What a wonderful article. I’m bookmarking this to send mis-informed polish addicts to! Toluene sounds scary when you read the bottle, but compared to any biology/chemistry lab in college it’s nothing, even painting your nails every day.

  14. I had heard something about this a little while back and just blew it off at the time, but now I’m more bothered by it because I wear nail polish all the time…do you have any recommendations of a top coat without toulene but still works as well as Seche Vite?

  15. Oh my gosh, you research and put together reports so incredibly well! Thank you a million times for this!

    One little question…while you were researching, did u come across anything that said whether toluene was just harmful via inhalation or whether it can also be absorbed through your skin/nails? Your research is from direct and reliable sources; there’s just this nagging little thing in my mind from a website that said that toluene was absorbed through the skin/nails, so I figured you’re a good person to ask if, through your research, you happen to know more about how toluene can make it’s way into one’s body. :D

    Thanks again for making a report of your research! It’s so impressive!

  16. Well now I understand why it has this horrible strong sharpie smell! I bought my first bottle of Sèche Vite two weeks ago and I must say I think it is overrated. It does have this nice particularity of smoothing nail polish and a great large brush, but as I don’t have any trouble applying my polish smoothly in the first place I don’t really need that. I find it dries slower than Essie’s Good To Go, and the smell is very disturbing to me. You know, it dries fast, but it takes about half an hour before I can use my fingers without denting my polish.

    So I’m definitely team Essie! And never buying SV again.

  17. Hi There
    Thank you so much for your article. I have purchased Seche Vite and I had read the label. I also lived in California for a little bit and read a lot of those warnings, even at an amusement park? So I figured it can’t be too bad to use this nail polish.
    Your article hit the nail on the head. I think Seche Vite wrote the warning to be compliance with California law but I don’t think this product will instantly cause birth defects or cancer. I will continue to use this product.
    Thanks
    Angeli

  18. You should try Poshe’s Topcoat, it’s just as good and toluene free!

  19. [...] Ok, here it is: Seche Vite contains toluene. Toluene is a solvent found in common products such as paint, paint thinner, nail polish (to help it apply smoothly to the nail), nail glue, and adhesives among other things. In short, it’s toxic. However, the amount of toluene found in Seche Vite is teeny tiny, and obviously copious amounts of toluene or repeated exposure over a long period of time is harmful to our health, but I think the small amount found in nail polish is relatively safe.. If you want to learn more about toluene, you can read about it here. [...]

  20. [...] harm’. Sounds nice right?! There’s a good post about it on Lacquer Glamours blog here. Apparently the top coat contains such a small amount of Toluene so it is safe to use, but after [...]

  21. Caitlin said:

    I was in shock when I found out Toluene was an ingredient in nail stuff. I work in the printing industry and we use it for cleaning and in our inks for the Gravure press (which uses more of a liquid ink) and I remember being told how toxic it was the toluene in nailpolish started freaking me out. -.-’ Thank you for writing this article.

    • Wish I read your article last week as I bought this top coat and used it last night. I only had the window cracked I should of had more ventilation so probably why I feel like this today. Woke up with a banging headache and had it all day! Went and bought a mask like in the salon , Orly 2in1 base and top coat instead free from the 3 toxins. OPI also do good top coats also free from these horrible chemicals. Its a shame as its such a wonderful topcoat but if I get headaches its defo not worth risking my health : )

  22. People at my school who got suspended used to sniff nail polish to get a toluene hit and sadly they were permanently brain dead long after they kicked the habit. Also, when I worked in a chemical lab with toluene I had to suit up and work with my arms stuck into big gloves in a vacumn hood. I was advised it definitley causes cancer it gotten onto the skin and can cause severe foetal defects, and if I spilt any I would have to be stripped and put into the shower scrub by my collegues for my safetly. Also, I were to be in a position to get pregnant, I had to be moved to another section they wouldn’t take the risk.

  23. Essie Good to Go! Fastest Drying Top Coat Is Big-3 free so is free from toluene…

  24. [...] been debating for the past few months about how I should approach this. Since this post was written,  I have made some changes in my lifestyle. I’m a lot more conscious of what I put [...]

  25. Try china Glaze fast forward… I find it works and almost the exact same product as Site Vite. Without the Toulene, how is smells pretty awful when applying and drying. but the same results with peace of mind. just a bit on the nose. x

  26. You won’t get me using this stuff.(TOULENE) this is NASTY stuff.But they keep making it. I was at Winners the other day and I saw a lady throwing the 4 bottles that were there into a garbage can.A clerk saw her doing that and asked her what she was doing,the customer was very upset that winners was selling that stuff.I went over to her later and asked her if she was ok.She told me her daughter got sick from using Seche Vite and the Doctor. Told her they should not be making this product with TOULENE,he’s had other patients come to him with being sick from this stuff. I have and never will use it.I use Deborah Lippmann’s addicted to speed,yours nails are fully dry in 2 minutes,and NO TOULENE!!!

  27. Kelista Noto said:

    Hey just a quick tip…if you love seche sooo much you need to try INVINCIBLE II Dry Fast Top Coat!!!! it is made by the same people who make seche BUT NO TOLUENE!!! Its also formaldehyde free and nitrocellulose free!!! And it is just as beautiful as seche vite!!! :D It is hard to find is the only downfall. But I usually buy mine from Ebay. I am sure it is available at some retail stores but I was unable to find it in my area! Please try Invincible, you won’t be disappointed ( or have children with birth defects caused from manicures)!!!! I promise!!!!! :D

  28. I’m not sure exactly why but this website is loading extremely slow for me.
    Is anyone else having this problem or is it a issue
    on my end? I’ll check back later on and see if the
    problem still exists.

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