Toluene is a petrochemical derived from petroleum or coal tar. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) considers toluene to be one of the most toxic ingredients on the market. You may see it on labels listed as benzene, toluol, phenylmethane, methylbenzene. It can be found in nail polish, nail treatments and hair color/bleaching products.
Toluene is a potent solvent able to dissolve paint and paint thinner. It can affect your respiratory system, cause nausea and irritate your skin. Just smelling it can get you high! Toluene has also been linked to immune system toxicity. It is also a harmful neurotoxin, which can affect the functioning of the brain and central nervous system. Expecting mothers should avoid exposure to toluene vapors as it may cause developmental damage in the fetus.
So, why is it still in beauty products and what do you do? If you'll remember from previous Beauty Science articles, the FDA does not regulate cosmetic ingredients, except for color additives. It's up to you to read the ingredients list. That the first thing you do. Make sure your nail polish is from a brand that has eliminated this ingredient. (All of Beauty Care Choices nail polish brands do NOT have toluene.) As for hair color, read the ingredients if you're doing it yourself or ask your hairdresser if you're having it done in the salon. Just avoid toluene period.