Can the Smell of Acrylic Harm a Newborn Baby: Uncovering the Truth About Nail Salon and Acrylic Fume

If you frequent nail salons or enjoy dabbling in the world of acrylic paint, it’s worth considering the potential effects of chemical exposure, particularly for pregnant women, toddlers, and newborns.

This article will unravel the truth behind the smell of acrylic and nail polish fumes, the associated risks if you breathe them, and offer much-needed advice to mitigate potential harm.

Nail Salons: What Are the Risks ?

The smell that fills a nail salon is usually a mix of chemicals found in nail polish, acrylics, and solvents. This can lead to a range of potential health effects, especially in a poorly ventilated salon.

Chemical Exposure: Acrylics and Nail Polish

Acrylic nails and nail polish contain various chemicals that can potentially harm an individual, especially pregnant women and small children.

Acrylic nails often involve the use of compounds such as formaldehyde and toluene. Nail polish, on the other hand, commonly contains toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP).

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): The Smell of Danger?

The potent smell in nail salons usually comes from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) evaporating into the air.

These chemicals in the air, particularly toluene and formaldehyde, are linked to adverse health effects, including respiratory problems, nausea, headaches, and even birth defects with prolonged exposure.

Are Pregnant Women At Risk in Nail Salons ?

Pregnancy is a critical time, and it’s crucial to avoid exposure to potentially harmful substances. Here, we explore the potential risks for pregnant women visiting nail salons.

Acrylic Fumes and Pregnancy: A Volatile Mix?

Acrylic fumes, particularly those from solvents and nail polish removers, can cause symptoms like dizziness and nausea in high concentrations.

Some research suggests that exposure to high levels of chemicals like DBP may affect pregnancy, though the evidence isn’t clear-cut.

Precautions Pregnant Women Should Take in Nail Salons

If you’re pregnant and want a pedicure or new acrylic nails, it’s best to choose a well-ventilated salon, opt for safer, water-based nail products where possible, and avoid using solvent-based products.

You may also want to wear a mask as an extra precaution.

Can the Odor of Nail Polish and Acrylic Paint Harm Toddlers and Newborns?

The health of our little ones is a top priority, and it’s essential to understand the potential risks associated with the smell from nail polish and acrylic paint fumes.

Potential Risks for Toddlers and Newborns

Babies and toddlers are more susceptible to the potential harmful effects of chemical exposure due to their developing systems.

Inhaling strong smells, such as those from nail polish or acrylic paint, can irritate their respiratory systems and may cause health issues like asthma.

Several solvents are used in nail polish to keep it in liquid form and ensure it spreads evenly when applied. The most common ones include:

  1. Toluene: This is a clear, colorless liquid used as a solvent in nail polish. It helps to improve the smoothness of the application. However, it’s also known for its potential health hazards, especially when inhaled in large amounts. Toluene exposure can lead to dizziness, headaches, and, in extreme cases, damage to the nervous system.
  2. Butyl Acetate and Ethyl Acetate: These are esters used as solvents in many cosmetics, including nail polish. They contribute to the characteristic smell of nail polish and help the polish to dry faster once applied.
  3. Acetone: This is another common solvent used in nail polish and nail polish removers. While it’s effective at dissolving nail polish, it can also be harsh and drying to the skin and nails.
  4. Formaldehyde: While formaldehyde is primarily used as a hardening agent in nail polish, it also serves a secondary function as a solvent. However, it’s worth noting that prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can cause health issues, including respiratory problems and skin irritation.

When using nail polish, ensure the area is well-ventilated to minimize the risks associated with solvent inhalation. Furthermore, always keep nail products out of reach of children to avoid accidental ingestion

Acrylic paints are water-based, but sometimes solvents are used for thinning the paint or for cleanup purposes. Here are some common solvents used with acrylic paints:

  1. Water: Since acrylic paint is water-based, water is the most commonly used solvent for thinning the paint and cleaning brushes. It is safe, readily available, and non-toxic.
  2. Acrylic Mediums: These are special types of solvents made specifically for use with acrylic paints. They come in various types, such as gloss, matte, and glazing mediums, and are used to change the texture, finish, or transparency of the paint.
  3. Isopropyl Alcohol: This can be used as a solvent to thin acrylic paint or clean up after painting. It can break down the acrylic binder, allowing the pigment to spread more easily.
  4. Acetone: Although not typically used to thin acrylic paints, acetone is sometimes used in cleaning brushes or removing dried acrylic paint.
  5. Ammonia: This is a potent solvent that’s often used in the manufacture of acrylic paints, though it’s less commonly used in the actual painting process.

When using any solvent, ensure the area is well-ventilated to reduce the risk of inhalation, and always follow manufacturer’s safety instructions.

In particular, when working with stronger solvents like acetone or ammonia, protective gloves and goggles should be worn to prevent skin and eye irritation.

Parenting Advice: How to Minimize Exposure

To minimize exposure to potentially harmful and toxic chemicals for your new baby or toddler, ensure good ventilation by opening windows when using nail polish or paint.

If you’ve painted or had a nail session, keep the baby’s room sealed off until the smell dissipates. It’s also advisable to keep nail polish and other chemicals out of reach to avoid accidental ingestion.

In Summary: Key Points to Remember

  • The smell in nail salons comes from the evaporation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde and toluene, found in acrylic and nail polish.
  • These chemicals can cause symptoms like nausea, headaches, and respiratory issues ( breathing problems), especially in poorly ventilated spaces.
  • Pregnant women are advised to choose well-ventilated salons, opt for safer, water-based nail products, and consider wearing a mask.
  • Babies and toddlers are more susceptible to the harmful effects of these chemicals. Parents should ensure good ventilation and keep nail products out of reach to protect their little ones.
  • It’s always best to err on the side of caution. If a smell is overpowering or unpleasant, it may be best to avoid the exposure altogether.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is the smell of acrylic toxic?

The smell of acrylic itself is not toxic, but it can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, especially for newborns with heightened sensitivity to odors.

What makes the smell of acrylic potentially harmful?

The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in some acrylic paints can potentially lead to respiratory issues upon prolonged exposure, making them potentially harmful, especially for newborns.

Are there safer alternatives to acrylic paint?

Yes, there are safer alternatives such as watercolor or tempera paints which produce little to no odors.

Is it safe for a newborn to be in a room recently painted with acrylic?

As long as the room is well-ventilated and the painting is not recent (24-48 hours post-painting), it’s generally safe for a newborn to be in the room.

How can I reduce the potential harm from the smell of acrylics?

Maintaining good ventilation, using low-VOC or VOC-free acrylic paints, and avoiding painting sessions around newborns are some of the measures that can reduce potential harm.

Can exposure to acrylic smell affect a newborn’s development?

While there’s no concrete evidence linking the smell of acrylic to developmental issues in newborns, frequent and prolonged exposure should still be avoided.



This post is written and edited by Sandy who is a clinical pharmacist with over 20 years of experience specializing in pre-natal and post-natal care.