What Is Acetone?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on September 13, 2023
3 min read

Acetone is a chemical used to make products like nail polish remover and paint remover. Your body also makes this chemical when it breaks down fat.

Acetone is safe in normal amounts, but too much of it could be a problem. Here’s what you need to know.

Your body uses sugar, or glucose, for energy. After you eat, the hormone insulin moves glucose out of your bloodstream and into your cells. When your body doesn't make enough insulin or you’re eating very few carbs, you can't use glucose for fuel. So your body burns fat instead.

As your liver breaks down stored fat, it makes chemicals called ketones. Acetone is one of these ketones. 

When fat is your body's primary source of fuel, you make extra ketones. Having too many is called ketosis.

Some types of ketosis are more dangerous than others. Nutritional ketosis, the kind that can happen when you’re on a very low-carb diet, is a relatively normal state that can lead to weight loss for some people. But in people who have diabetes, ketones can build up to much higher levels in the blood, leading to a dangerous complication called ketoacidosis.

Acetone and other extra ketones in your body show up in your urine. If you have diabetes that isn't well controlled, your doctor might test your urine for ketones. A positive test could be a sign that you need extra insulin to control your blood sugar.

Acetone is also a chemical that's found in nature, and in many products you might use at home. All of these things release acetone:

  • Trees and other plants, forest fires
  • Volcanoes
  • Landfills
  • Car exhaust
  • Tobacco

Acetone is a solvent, which means it can break down or dissolve substances like paint and varnish. That's why it's an ingredient in nail polish removers, varnish removers, and paint removers. Companies also use this chemical to remove grease from wool, reduce the stickiness of silk, and make protective coatings for furniture and cars.

Products that have acetone are safe to use when you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. The chemical is very flammable, so you need to avoid using things like paint and nail polish remover near open flames.

Breathing in large amounts of acetone can cause health problems like:

Acetone can also irritate or damage your skin.

If you have diabetes, take your medicine exactly as prescribed to prevent ketone spikes. Try not to miss any doses. Regularly check your blood sugar level, and adjust your insulin dose when needed. Work with your doctor and a dietitian to get the right amount of carbohydrates in your diet.

Cigarette smoke releases acetone into the air. You can reduce your exposure to this chemical by not smoking or being around anyone who smokes.

When you use products that have acetone like nail polish remover or paint remover, stay in well-ventilated areas. And if you get any of this chemical on your skin, wash it off.