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Acetone Poisoning—The Dangers Of Drinking Nail Polish Remover

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

April 22, 2019

Drinking nail polish remover may result in acetone poisoning, which can cause loss of coordination, difficulty breathing, coma, and death. Acetone abuse can lead to addiction and may permanently damage the throat, liver, and kidneys.

Acetone is frequently used as an inhalant—a toxic substance that is breathed in to produce a high. Inhalants include solvents, gases, and aerosol sprays that can often be found around the house.

One of the most common sources of concentrated acetone is nail polish remover, which may be inhaled (“huffed”) or drank to produce effects similar to alcohol intoxication.

What Is Acetone?

Acetone is a colorless liquid solvent used to dissolve other substances. It can be found in paint, glue, furniture polish, hair dye, and many other man-made materials. It is also produced naturally by plants, animals, and smoke.

The body even produces acetone when it is not receiving enough nutrients, or in the case of diabetes when it cannot properly turn sugar into energy. The liver converts fat into three ketones that provide energy instead, one of which is acetone.

Because the body is able to process acetone, small amounts can be digested and naturally excreted. However, drinking acetone causes toxicity levels in the body to rise dangerously. This can cause a severe adverse reaction, called acetone poisoning, that requires medical attention.

Acetone Poisoning Symptoms

A sip of nail polish remover may lead to an upset stomach that can be naturally resolved. But it takes more than a sip to cause intoxication, which is usually why someone drinks it.

A mouthful or more nail polish remover can cause acetone poisoning, with symptoms like:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • nausea or vomiting
  • drunkenness
  • loss of coordination
  • difficulty breathing
  • low blood pressure
  • rapid heartbeat
  • fainting

Acetone poisoning results from an overdose of acetone. It can cause a person to lose consciousness, go into a coma, and may even be fatal—especially if untreated.

The Dangers Of Drinking Nail Polish Remover

Nail polish remover contains several toxic ingredients besides acetone that are not meant to be ingested. Butyl acetate, ethyl acetate, and isopropyl acetate are a few of these ingredients that can irritate the throat even when inhaled.

If someone drinks nail polish remover, it will likely burn their mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach. The more often they drink it, the worse this problem will be, and it may cause irreversible damage.

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Long-term effects of ingesting acetone in high amounts include damage to the liver, kidneys, and nerves as well as an increased risk of birth defects.

If a person regularly drinks nail polish remover to get intoxicated, they are likely to become tolerant to the effects of acetone. This can lead them to consume more of it for the same effect, increasing the negative consequences. It can also lead to addiction—a mental dependence on or craving for acetone.

What To Do If Someone Drinks Nail Polish Remover

If someone has ingested nail polish remover, call 911 or poison control immediately. Flushing their mouth out with water may relieve some discomfort. Because acetone is highly abrasive and can burn the throat, induced vomiting is not recommended.

Be prepared to tell the emergency dispatcher how much nail polish remover the individual consumed and when, as well as their weight, age, and condition.

At the hospital, the person will be closely monitored so appropriate treatment can be administered to stabilize them. Treatment for acetone poisoning may include stomach pumping, IV fluids, blood tests, and a breathing tube, depending on the severity of the situation.

Treatment For Acetone Abuse And Addiction

Acetone abuse and addiction can become a major problem, affecting not only someone’s health but also their relationships, productivity, and happiness. An inpatient rehab program can help individuals who struggle with solvent abuse learn positive coping skills and reclaim their health.

A focus of inpatient care is behavioral therapy that works through destructive thoughts and behavior patterns. These programs often integrate yoga, art, exercise, and nutrition into individualized treatment plans to help each person find their own way to recovery.

United States Department of Labor - Health Hazards in Nail Salons

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Household Products Database

U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Acetone poisoning

U.S. National Library of Medicine: TOXNET - HSDB: ACETONE

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