The Least Toxic Nail Polish and Nail Care Products

by Lilly Wallace

One of the questions that I am frequently asked in regard to natural cosmetics is “Where do I start?” My answer is always the same — by replacing your nail polishes and fragrances. These conventional products contain well-known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and neurotoxins. Cleaning up your collection of nail products and perfumes is a great way to start your journey into clean beauty, reduce your close exposure to harmful chemicals, and also reduce the dispersion of them into the environment.

The chemicals contained in nail polishes that are considered to be harmful are: Dibutyl Phtalate, Formaldehyde, and Toluene (also called the “toxic trio”). Dibutyl Phtalate (DBP) has been shown to have effects on the reproductive system of animals and its use has been banned in Europe. Formaldehyde, used as a hardening agent, is considered a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Toluene, also banned in Europe, can have health effects on the brain, kidneys, and reproductive system.

After the concern was raised about the possible harm caused by these chemicals many companies began to remove them from their products and label themselves as “3-free“. However, in 2012 the California Department of Toxic Substances Control tested 25 different nail polishes with the “3-free” label, and according to lab-testing, 23 out of 25 did not live up to the claim.

No matter which nail polish you choose, it is always very important to apply nail polish in a well-ventilated space, since a major concern for nail polish users is the inhalation of fumes (as well as ingestion) produced by the chemicals in nail polishes. Poisoning from nail polish inhalation is not only possible, but carries well-documented health risks, especially for people who work in nail salons.

When looking for the safest option for kids and pregnant women, water-based nail polishes are the best. They are free from chemical and oil solvents so they do not emit any overwhelming fumes. Some of the brands that make them include Scotch, Hopscotch Kids, and Piggy Paint (also available at Target and select Walmart stores).

However, some people (me included) may not be able to keep their nails well-painted for longer than a day, as water-based formulas are not usually as long-lasting and tend to chip more easily (especially if you tend to wash your hands frequently). For that reason, 5-free formulas have become the most popular, being free not only of the toxic trio but also of Formaldehyde Resin and Camphor.

Some of the nail polish brands that make 3, 4 and 5-free formulas are:

Zoya. This was the first 3-free nail polish company that I learned of back in 2009 when I was at the beginning of my green beauty journey. The formulas are consistently good, the price is affordable, they are widely available (check ULTA and some nail salons), and they come in a large number of shades. Zoya is one of the two nail polishes labeled as “3-free” that was found to be living up to the claim in the study mentioned above.

Sheswai. Founded by Nailing Hollywood nail artist, Debbie Leavitt. Sheswai’s effort to provide safer nail products does not end with the formulas, which are all 5-free. In fact, the cute nail polish bottles come with a sustainably harvested wooden cap, thereby avoiding the use of plastic. Two of my favorite nail polishes are Sheswai: Honeyfox, the perfect cherry red to glam up my toenails and For Real, an elegant nude/beige shade that goes with any outfit.

Priti NYC. Priti NYC offers 5-free nail polishes and an impressive selection of shades. As a New York Fashion Week sponsor since 2005, Priti NYC often launches limited edition collections especially designed for the fashion shows. I also love their nail polish remover and glass nail file.

Honorable mentions go to other committed companies that make 5-free nail polishes, such as NCLA, RGB, Treat Collection, Jin Soon, Butter London, Kure Bazaar, and Vapour Organic Beauty.

There are also better options available than conventional acetone-based nail polish removers. Acetone is a powerful solvent, but is extremely drying to nails and may cause them to become weaker over time. Some acetone-free nail polish removers are not only effective, but also gentle to the nails because they contain moisturizing oils. My favorite nail polish removers are Priti NYC, Honeybee Gardens, and Scotch. All of them work with any type of nail polish formula (water, solvent, or oil-based) and do not have that strong scent to them that acetone has. In fact, Priti NYC makes one with a lemongrass scent that I find to be particularly pleasant.

Finally, a product that I found particularly helpful with keeping my nails and cuticles healthy and moisturized is Weleda Skin Food. It is a rich, beautifully scented cream that intensively moisturizes and softens cuticles. Tip: In the evening, apply a generous amount on your feet, making sure to massage it into your toenails and cuticles. Then put on your socks and get a good night of sleep. Your feet will look so much better by the following morning! It’s a perfect cream if your hands and feet have been neglected during winter and you want to make them look better.

Have you ever tried nail polishes and nail care products like those that I mentioned? If so, how was your experience?

Photo credits: Lilly Wallace

About the Author

Lilly Wallace is an Italian certified health and nutrition coach. She writes about beauty and wellness on her website GenuineGlow.com. Passionate about skin care, nutrition and fitness, she loves to inspire her readers to pursue a healthy, eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle.