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Talking all about non-toxic nail polish, what toxins are actually in conventional nail polish, and what are safe nail polish options you can feel good about using!
No one ever feels 100 percent together all the time. We all have a lot going on, and it’s no easy feat to keep up with it. Looking good while doing it often gets bumped down the priority list.
One thing that always makes me feel a little more confident and pulled together is having my nails done! After all, there’s a reason we call it nail polish. It makes you feel polished! And since we spend so much time tapping away on our computers and devices, it gives you a little boost to be able to look down and see your nails looking fresh.
But not all nail polish is created equal! Many of the mainstream brands and products that we’re used to using actually contain toxic ingredients. Let’s get into how to make your manicure pretty — and safe…
Your Safe Nail Polish Guide
You’re walking into a nail salon. You’re excited for a little pampering. You deserve it! Before long, your fingers (and maybe your toes!) will have some extra sparkle and you’ll be ready to take on the world with just a touch more confidence than you had pre-mani.
But what is that smell?
It hits you like a ton of bricks — well, more like a ton of chemicals. If you’ve gotten a lot of professional manicures and pedicures in your time, you’ve probably just learned to adapt to it. That smell is just part of the nail salon experience, right?
That might be true, but it doesn’t mean that the smell should be ignored. In fact, it definitely shouldn’t be.
The odor you’re used to when you’re getting your nails done at a salon — or even the more subtle version you get when you paint them at home with store-bought polish — is a signal of the toxic ingredients lurking in the manicure and pedicure industry.
Toxins in Nail Polish
You’ve heard me mention this when it comes to other industries, but the problems with nail polish all come down to one thing: regulation. Or a lack thereof. Nail polish manufacturers are not required to list their ingredients anywhere on their products or marketing materials. This means that we have quite literally no idea what we’re putting on our bodies during a mani or pedi.
The problem actually goes a little deeper than that, too. The ingredients in nail polish matter not only because you put them on your nails, but also because they’re absorbed through your skin and inhaled when you breathe. That nasty smell you catch at the salon? You’re taking that in with every breath!
Many studies have indicated that exposure to toxins is relatively low in the nail industry, but that doesn’t account for those of us who paint our nails regularly, let alone the technicians who spend their lives surrounded by these products. Over time, those toxins can really add up! Why wouldn’t we do everything we can to minimize the problem?
Here are the toxic chemicals commonly found in mainstream nail polish brands (think OPI, Essie, Sally Hansen, and Revlon) and other nail products:
- Dibutyl phthalate (DnBP): These endocrine disruptors are connected to health issues like hormone changes, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities.
- Toluene: This chemical has been known to cause eye irritation, kidney issues, and damage to the nervous system.
- Formaldehyde: We’ve discussed this ingredient before with respect to other industries. It’s a proven carcinogen, which means it’s been linked to cancer. Formaldehyde resin — a byproduct of formaldehyde — is problematic, too, since it disrupts the skin and reproductive systems.
- Camphor: Inhaling camphor can irritate the ENT system and cause coughing and wheezing. Additional exposure can cause headaches, nausea, stomach pain, mental confusion, and even seizures.
- Methacrylic acid: This acid has skin irritation, nervous system disruption, and fertility imbalances among its side effects.
- TPHP/TPP: Often utilized in furniture fire retardant, this chemical has been found to interact with the way the body regulates weight and with sex hormones. Studies about TPHP are still relatively limited, so it’s likely that more news will come out about this one.
- Benzophenone-1: Some studies have found this ingredient safe, but others have associated it with cancer and endocrine problems.
- Xylene: This toxin is absorbed very rapidly into the body when inhaled and can lead to irritation in the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. It may even be a carcinogen.
- Lead: It’s no secret that lead is damaging to basically every organ. It’s been connected to a wide range of health consequences.
- Parabens: These are typically used as a preservative (in nail polish and other products) and can throw off your hormones.
- Hydroquinone monomethyl ether (MEHQ/HQ): These chemicals may trigger discomfort in the eyes and skin.
- Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) / methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT): While these are effective at preserving the shelf life of nail polish, they are also dangerous for the lungs and brain and can cause allergic reactions.
- Colophonium: This sticky substance is associated with acute allergic reactions and breathing issues.
- Organic halides (AOX): Used to thin out substances, these chemical compounds can cause serious disorders and nerve damage.
While some of these chemicals are primarily toxic when you’re breathing them in, others actually stay in your body long after the polish itself actually dries.
If you’re a big fan of getting your nails done, I understand how this might be a little overwhelming. As always, I want to remind you to take a deep breath… and to keep reading! While this information is deeply upsetting, it doesn’t mean the end of your personal pampering. There are ways to paint your nails safely — and thankfully, lots of companies and brands are emerging to make doing so even easier and more accessible.
Best Non-Toxic Nail Polish
But first, a word about marketing. (You know how I feel about this.) By now, many beauty brands know that we’re on to them and the toxic chemicals they’re using in their polish, so they’ve started adding labels like “natural” or “xxx-free” to their packaging. While well-intentioned, those labels might not mean you’re looking at a truly non-toxic product.
Generally speaking, your best bet for a safe manicure will be a polish that lists its ingredients or that is described as “10-free+.” It’s a plus if you can find a brand that’s vegan, cruelty-free, and/or gluten-free.
It’s time to get specific! Here are some popular non-toxic nail polish brands that I would recommend:
- Dazzle Dry, which is my personal favorite! You’ve probably heard me talk about this polish on social media. I use it all the time and have been super happy with the results. It’s a little spendy, but it does last for a long time and dries very quickly. Plus, it offers me a lot of peace of mind, since I know it doesn’t contain the ten most toxic chemicals. They also often have sales! I’ve tried this one and love it.
- Cote is free of six of the most harmful toxins often found in polish. There are a whopping 120 shades available, so you’ll have plenty of choices. I’ve tried this one and like it.
- Zoya made a splash as one of the earliest brands marketing its safer polish. Today, it’s still known for its high quality and non-toxic formula, not to mention its 400-plus colors. Plus, it’s just $10 a bottle.
- ella + mila has been known to take longer to dry than its competitors, but it comes in a wide range of pretty colors and is very resistant to chipping. I’ve tried this one and like it.
- Piggy Paint is one of the more accessible brands on this list, since it’s available at many Target stores. Yes, please! I have heard it comes off quickly, but good for kids!
- Sophi is free of all toxic chemicals. That’s the biggest pro of all. Have not personally tried… yet!
- Huella has some of the coolest, most modern packaging in the game and will look very chic in your bathroom. Oh, and it also looks good on your nails. Have not personally tried… yet!
- Kure Baazar polishes are made with 85 percent all-natural ingredients. Plus, it’s extremely shiny.
- Olive + June has been marketing itself all over social media over the last few years, so you’re probably familiar with it! It has a hard, shiny finish and holds up for about a week. Have not personally tried… yet!
- Aila is known for helping to improve the condition of your nails, which is a nice perk. It’s priced lower than some of its non-toxic competitors, but has been known to chip quicker, too. Have not personally tried… yet!
- Julep, Sienna, Pacifica, KL Polish, Smith and Cult, and Color Street are a few others I’ve heard people like, too. Have not personally tried… yet!
Your nails can stay looking fabulous while you remain on the safe, healthy side by choosing clean, non-toxic products. Treat yourself to some non-toxic polish and enjoy an even more relaxing manicure/pedicure experience!
Here’s the safe nail polish kit I bring to the salon
Yes, they’ll gladly use your own products! In your tote, pack…
- Hand Cream
- Baby Oil (for cuticles) or even Baby Balm for your feet
- Body Scrub
- Nail Polish Remover Wipes (I often do this step before I go)
- Any Tools You’d Like
- Cute bag to put it all in! Amazon has a bunch or I’ve seen cute/inexpensive ones at Target, too!
- Nail Polish, of course! Zoya, Cote, Ella & Mila, Dazzle Dry… Note: If bringing, for example, Dazzle Dry, make sure you pack the whole system: base, top coat, and color of choice.
If you loved this article, check out these others:
- We Need to Talk About Fragrance
- What I Learned When We Revamped Our Tap Water
- Our Top Picks for the Safest Cookware
- Non-Toxic Baby Toys