December 02, 2021

What are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs?)

What are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs?)

What are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs?)

And what do they have to do with nail polish?

kapa nui nails lifestyle hands

That feeling you get when you get a strong whiff of traditional nail polish or a fresh coat of paint? That’s due to VOCs. 💅🏼🤢👃🏼

In our newest blog, we leave you with 5 easy ways to reduce your exposure to indoor VOCs! 

kapa nui nails mandarin non toxic nail polish next to a buddha statue

“Volatile Organic Compounds” (VOCs) are chemicals that are released easily into the air at room temperature.

They are found both indoors and outdoors and there are two types:

  1. Naturally occurring VOCs
  2. Man-made VOCs

Naturally occurring VOCs are relatively benign. They come primarily from trees who emit the VOC Isoprene to repel insects and attract pollinators.

Man-made VOCs are emitted into the air both outdoors and indoors, but the indoor man-made VOCs are the ones you need to watch; Studies have found concentrations of VOCs are 2-5 times higher in the air indoors than outdoors. VOCs released indoors come from your everyday common household items, including:

  • Solvents + thinners (such as traditional nail polish + remover)
  • Paints and glues
  • Furniture polish and other wood preservatives
  • Cleaners, including soaps and laundry detergents
  • Aerosol sprays, including fresheners and hair spray
  • Stored fuels and automotive products
  • Pesticides

Many of these man-made VOCs are regulated because they have been found to contribute to ozone depletion, global warming, and environmental pollution. At high exposure, they have also been found to have harmful effects on human health.

These health effects can vary depending on factors such as exposure duration, type, and concentration, but common acute symptoms after exposure include headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation, dizziness, nausea and difficulty with breathing. (This is that feeling you get when you get a strong whiff of traditional nail polish!)

Long-term exposure to certain VOCs may also lead to chronic health conditions such as damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system, asthma, and cancer.

So how can you reduce your exposure to indoor VOCs?
We leave you with 5 tips!

As there are no federal or state standards for VOC levels in non-industrial settings, the best way to reduce the potential impact on your health from VOC exposure is to limit the use of products that will emit high levels of VOCs. 

1. Switch out your high-VOC products for low VOC and VOC-free alternatives!
Kapa Nui nail products are low VOC and VOC-free alternatives to high-VOC traditional polishes and acetone removers. Paints and sealants now have low-VOC and VOC-free alternatives (keep an eye out for the labels.)

2. Buy only enough VOC-emitting household items for immediate use so you don’t have to store them in your home.

3. Pay close attention to instructions and warnings on all product labels. Keep lids on tightly.

4. For products without VOC-free alternatives, consider storing them in an outdoor shed, away from your living spaces. No outdoor shed? Air them outside your home before placing them inside.

5. When you must store high-VOC products indoors, make sure to maximize ventilation to prevent accumulation of VOCs.

We hope you found this helpful, and we invite you to join our community of 12,000+ women who are enjoying fun, gorgeous nails without compromise. Come be a part of the change; take care of the earth while taking care of your health. Body Safe + Planet Safe = Clean Beauty with Kapa Nui.

-Dr. Lyn Lam and Terry Lam (Co-Founders)

Helpful Links:

Where can I find a full list of Indoor VOCs and their sources?

There are technically dozens of VOCs that are found indoors, but there are 14 that are most commonly found in your home. Check out the list here.

How do I know if my products release VOCs into the air?

A good general rule is to smell it. If it emits a strong odor, chances are it is high-VOC. But the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services also keeps a helpful household products database where you can learn more about the chemicals in common household items and precautions that should be taken when using them.

Want to learn more about the toxicity of traditional nail products? We recommend these articles:

Phthalate and Organophosphate Plasticizers in Nail Polish

Characterizing Workplace Exposures in Vietnamese Women Working in California Nail Salons

Toxicity, Safety and Performance of Alternative Nail Products

The Continual Regrettable Substitution of Nail Polish Ingredients

 by Colby Sameshima