Are Sharpie Manicures Safe?

I was asked recently on the blog if Sharpie manicures are safe.  I’ve never personally been worried about it, but should I be?  Sharpie manicures can obviously be amazing.  If you’re not familiar with them, check out my post here.  Also, if you know the right tricks (see the way I get my Sharpie manicures to look fabulous here) it’s not difficult to use Sharpies to give you great nails.  If Sharpie manicures aren’t safe, it would be nice to know.  I decided to look into it and this post is the result.

I want to preface this post by saying I personally have conducted no scientific research on this subject. I’ve simply tried to examine the facts and aim to fill you in on what I’ve found. By facts, I mean items of information I’ve found on the internet, which we all know is always correct and full of truth. Amirite? So, that being said, the following will be information I’ve gathered on the topic of Sharpies, what they contain, and what may happen when they come in contact with your body. Along, with all these “facts” I’ve included sources if you care to read about these things for yourself, but I’ll try myself to give it to you straight with my very own opinions that can basically be summed up into two points.

1.  Sharpies are not intended for the skin.

Hopefully you’ve noticed, Sharpies have an ACMI non-toxic label on them, which is obviously something you’d like to have/see on most things around your house.  Sharpie has a blog here, and on this blog they were asked about that label and if it means Sharpies are safe to use on skin.  In short, the answer from Sharpie was that Sharpies are not intended for use on skin and that if you get it on your skin you should try to remove it.  It didn’t sound like it would be harmful, but merely a friendly suggestion that if you want to use some sort of artistic material on your skin, you should use something designed to be used on the skin.

Additionally, according to a report on by one Dr. Helmenstine, there are some Sharpies out there that MAY contain such chemicals as n-propanol, n-butanol, diacetone alcohol and cresol.  Additionally, it is also claimed that three types of Sharpies (King Size Sharpie, Magnum Sharpie and Touch-Up Sharpie) that contain a chemical called xylene however no sources are given for either of these claims. According to a material safety data sheet (MSDS) for xylene, it seems like your biggest practical worry might be skin irritation.  If you’re letting xylene soak into your skin all the time, there’s potential for issues with organs and the nervous system, but lets be real, this is for repeated or prolonged exposure to xylene, not Sharpies.  For me, if I got one of these Sharpies that potentially have xylene in them on my skin, I would wash it off.  If it irritated my skin, I’d make sure to not let touch my skin again because that sounds irritating.

2.  The fingernail is not skin.

I don’t really like to think about what the fingernail is made out of, but I did look into it when I was doing a little research for this.  I found out the fingernail is very different from skin, and is actually very difficult to permeate.  Long story short, there have been studies performed on how well substances can be used to treat nail disorders through the nail, and it apparently is really difficult.  So, my guess is that if scientists and doctors have a difficult time getting materials made to permeate through fingernails to permeate, it’s probably not likely that other substances will permeate through the nail.

I would suggest you always put a base coat or polish of choice on your nails before you apply any Sharpie.  This will give you some rad contrast or background color to your nail art, but will also give you an additional polymer barrier between the Sharpie and your fingernail if you’re worried about chemicals entering your body through the nail.  Also, a top coat would also be beneficial, and check out my post here for my method to apply a top coat without smearing your Sharpie art.

Lastly, if you someone who is concerned about chemicals and toxicity and how it could affect you, be sure to follow me on your favorite social network.  I have links over here to the right of the page. That way you’ll be notified with upcoming posts, and you can stay tuned for a post that’s on the way about toxic-chemical free nail polishes.

So, let me know what you think about my findings and thoughts.  You obviously can disagree with me. But I’m not scared to give myself a Sharpie manicure.  Bottom line, be safe, and if the substances you’re using irritate your skin or cuticle, stop using them.  Let me know if you have any other sources or information that would be useful to all of us.  We want awesome nails, but being safe is up there in priority too.

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12 thoughts on “Are Sharpie Manicures Safe?

  1. MegsFitness

    Thanks for posting this–I actually found your post through pinterest, so even though people might not have commented, they’re definitely reading your material. I’ll consider it food for thought.

  2. Anna L

    I myself was skeptical before this blog…but relized its ok because the sharpie isnt touching your nail. Theres 1-4 coats of nail polish (which happens to be made for nails ;D) before the sharpie does. So even if the sharpies arent safe for nails…that wouldnt matter anyways 😀

  3. Rachael Porter

    I actually find it hard to believe that anyone would worry about Sharpies being safe for your nails. Have they actually wondered if nail polish is safe for you? Most nail polishes are made with toxins but because nail polish is made for our nails we think they are fine. Formaldehyde, for one, is in most nail polishes. I think maybe people should wonder if nail polish is safe for manicures. There are nail polishes out there made without the toxins, lots of them. They may cost a bit more but I feel better about putting them on my nails.

    1. Heather

      I would recommend a base coat, always-not just with a sharpie because it will make your polish last longer and go on smoother, then your regular polish and then Sharpie! That should put a few coats as a barrier between your actual nail and your Sharpie.

  4. Tracy

    Will the sharpie still stain your nail if you put a few clear coats on before using the sharpie? Or should I just use a color based nail polish before using the sharpie?

    1. Heather

      A coat or 2 of any nail polish should do the trick to keep your nails from staining. I am always a fan of a good base coat before any colored polish so my nails don’t get discolored.


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