We all know that exposing ourselves to too many chemicals is bad for our health.
I mean, seriously, how many self-care products do you use in just one day?
I’m guessing quite a few, and if you aren’t careful with your choices, the toxins can soon mount up.
The good news is that in 2020, you don’t have to sacrifice your health to have beautiful nails.
I always like to use “cleaner” health and beauty products, so I’ve done a ton of research into the best options for keeping nails looking fabulous whilst also keeping chemical exposure to a minimum and I’m ready to share my knowledge.
What chemicals in nail polish should you avoid and why?
21st-century customers want nail polishes that are free from as many nasty harmful substances as possible and thankfully, the nail polish industry has responded to this by improving their formulas in recent years.
So, as it stands in 2020, many nail polishes are a lot safer now than they ever have been.
That being said, there are still plenty of chemical-laden polishes out there that you’re probably going to want to avoid.
Many chemically conscious brands now advertise themselves as being 3-free, 5-free 7-free or 10-free, but what does that mean?
Well, there are plenty of chemical nasties that can be found lurking in polishes.
Some are worse than others.
The number (3, 5, 7, 10, etc) refers to the number of known-to-be-harmful substances that are not present in that polish, so the higher the number, the better.
Be careful, though, as sometimes this label is used as a marketing tactic, so always check the formula’s ingredients to make sure there’s nothing in there that shouldn’t be.
The Toxic Trio.
While there are quite a few chemicals to be found in nail polish, there are 3 main ones that you absolutely need to avoid at all costs if you value your health!
They are known in the industry as the Toxic Trio.
The Toxic Trio consists of the following 3 chemicals:
Toluene is a clear colorless liquid with a strong paint thinner like smell that is produced in the process of making gasoline.
It is commonly used in paints, thinners, lacquers and adhesives.
In nail polish, it is used as a solvent to stop the color from separating.
According to ATSDR’s public health statement, Toluene can have serious effects on the nervous system, causing headaches, dizziness, vision and hearing loss.
It can also severely affect the mental development of a growing fetus, and can even cause miscarriages, so pregnant women should never use polishes containing it.
Furthermore, overexposure to Toluene can potentially damage your heart, liver, kidneys and reproductive system.
Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP).
This ominous-sounding substance is used heavily within the plastics industry.
Dibutyl Phthalate helps to make plastic more flexible, and it’s actually present in a lot of regular household items like shower curtains, raincoats and food wrap.
It’s put into nail polish to soften it and stop it from cracking.
Something that I found quite scary during my research is that Dibutyl Phthalate can actually be present in any nail or beauty product that has the word “Fragrance or Parfum” on the label.
Because manufacturers are not required to list their “fragrance recipes” as they are seen to be trade secrets. Charming!
DBP is absorbed through the skin. It is classified by the European Union as an “endocrine disruptor” which is fancy talk for it messes with your hormones.
DBP can increase the chances of you developing genetic mutations.
It’s also toxic to the reproductive systems of both males and females, so sperm counts beware!
Like Toluene, DBP can also cause harm to an unborn fetus, as well as affecting fertility.
In Europe, the use of DBP in cosmetics is banned.
In Canada, DBP is banned in children’s toys and baby products but it is still allowed to be used in cosmetics.
Completing the toxic trio is Formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is used to harden and strengthen nail polishes.
It’s pretty nasty stuff that’s been linked to a wide range of serious health concerns, resulting in it being heavily regulated in Europe and even banned in some countries like Sweden and Japan.
It’s a known respiratory irritant that can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, asthma and skin allergies.
And if that didn’t convince you to steer clear, it’s also been linked to nose, throat and blood cancer.
Nuff said. Mic drop!
Other nasty chemicals in nail polish.
You may have noticed that a lot of polishes now advertise themselves as “3-free”.
This means that the polish is free from the 3 worst nail-polish related chemicals outlined above.
So, if you want to avoid the worst chemical culprits, buy a polish that is at least 3-free.
If you want to avoid the highest possible number of chemicals, go for a higher number such as 7, 8 or 10 free and if you have a specific health check the ingredients thoroughly.
Every brand recommended in this article is free from Toluene, DBP, Formaldehyde and more.
In addition to the toxic trio, there are other chemicals in nail polish that can cause a whole host of health issues from asthma to cancer.
This is why a growing number of polish brands are now introducing 5, 7, 8, 10 and even 13-free formulas.
It stands to reason then, that there are other chemicals in nail polish that savvy customers like you and me should be aware of.
Here’s the list.
I call it the “not quite as bad but still bad nail polish chemicals” list. Yeah, the title needs work.
Parabens mimic estrogen and can cause breast cancer. Not to mention hormonal issues.
Unfortunately, they are present in everything from toothpaste to antifungal treatments as well as nail polish.
It’s added to nail polish formulas for 2 reasons.
First, it can help to prevent chipping. Second, camphor makes polish super shiny.
However, camphor is highly toxic and is a known irritant, so its best avoided.
This is a toxic and carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substance added to nail polish to make it last longer.
My advice? Stay well clear.
Xylene might stop your nail polish from getting gloopy but breathing in Xylene causes headaches and dizziness.
It’s also an allergen and possible (but not yet confirmed) carcinogen.
TPHP (Triphenyl Phosphate).
TPHP is another plasticizer that’s used to make nail polish more flexible.
The word in the science lab is that it messes with your hormones and your metabolism causing weight gain.
Yet another plasticizer that helps to dry polish faster.
This one has been banned in Europe due to the fact that it lowers resistance to antibiotics.
I’m by no means an expert, but in this article, I’m going to share with you the very best non-toxic and chemical-free products and brands that I’ve discovered on my trip down the rabbit hole.
The best non-toxic nail polish brands for you to try out:
1. Zoya Professional Laquer – Best for damaged nails.
If your nails are a tad damaged and you want to create a good foundation for future manicures, Zoya’s patented Naked Manicure system might be for you.
It’s great for making natural nails look their best and is equally good for creating a smooth base for a new colour.
Zoya’s polishes are natural, 10 free and vegan-friendly.
Zoya also has a great reputation for creating long-lasting polishes and fantastic reviews.
2. Butter London Patent Shine 10X Nail Laquer. Best for shine.
If you want your nails to shine bright like a diamond and have a gel-like finish then the 10X shine range from Butter London could be the polish for you.
Like all Butter London’s polishes, the Patent Shine 10X range is 8 free: here’s the list of things you won’t find in Butter’s offerings:
● Formaldehyde Resin
● Camphor, Ethyl Tosylamide
Not only does this chip and fade-resistant polish not contain any nasty chemicals, but it actually harnesses the strengthening power of bamboo to give your natural nails a boost!
3. Côte Toxic Free Nail Polish. Best for allergy sufferers.
Cote claims that they make the “cleanest non-toxic nail polishes available”.
This is, of course, good for all of us, but it’s particularly good for allergy sufferers or those with sensitive skin.
Let’s see what boxes they check, shall we?
No Parabens. Check.
Free from major toxins. Check.
Not bad, Cote. Not bad at all.
4. Deborah Lippman Nail Laquer. Best for nourishing nails.
Most of Deborah Lippman’s polishes are 7-free and contain no formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, xylene, camphor or ethyl tosylamide.
They are kind to nails, and their big claim is that their polishes “do no damage”.
In fact, Deborah Lippman’s polishes contain nail nourishing ingredients like green tea and biotin.
Great for keeping your natural nails in top shape.
5. Smith & Cult Nail Laquer. Best color selection.
This range of 8 free Nail Lacquers from swanky brand Smith & Cult will look fabulous on both your nails and on your dressing table!
The entire range is cruelty-free, gluten-free, and suitable for vegans.
Better still, you won’t find any parabens or phthalates in any of Smith & Cults polishes.
They have an amazing selection of colors, all of which are free from Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, Xylene, Ethyl Tosylamide and Triphenyl Phosphate.
The coverage is great, it doesn’t chip easily and it’s very shiny. Definitely a winner.
6. Pacifica 7 Free Nail Colour. Best for vegans.
If you love animals, you’ll love Pacifica.
This animal-loving company pride themselves on being cruelty-free.
They have a 7 free formula that’s not only long-lasting and cruelty-free, but it even comes with a vegan brush!
You also won’t find any parabens in any of their products
If you want vibrant colors and peace of mind, give Pacifica a try.
7. Orly Breathable Treatment + Color Nail Laquer. The best option for a fast mani.
Orly claims that their Breathable 1 step manicure is 13 free.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information as to what chemicals they leave out on their website. So, I’d proceed with caution.
The USP for this polish is speed.
Apparently, there’s no need for a basecoat or topcoat so you can literally paint a single coat and you’re done!
Sounds great, but the lack of information available online means that the jury’s still out on this one.
Best non-toxic nail polish remover Karma Organic Natural Rose Oil.
Of course, it’s not just nail polishes that contain chemicals, nail polish removers do, too!
That’s why I’m recommending this non-toxic nail polish remover from Karma Organic.
It’s a cruelty-free and vegan-friendly nail polish remover made from rose oil and it smells amazing!
It’s free from both acetone and alcohol and it won’t damage or dry out your nails.
You may not have heard of Karma Organic, as they are an Organic Spa with just 2 locations in New Jersey.
They have been making a name for themselves in the nail industry though, because of their “clean and green” philosophy and range of innovative non-toxic nail products.
Their products are safe for pregnant women and children, as well as for those with allergies or sensitive skin.
As well as a non-toxic nail remover, they also do a great range of 7-free nail polish colors, a non-toxic basecoat and a fabulous nail strengthener, all in recyclable packaging.
So there you have it. 7 of the very best non toxic and chemical free nail polishes.
I hope you are excited to give these a try.
Good luck and happy polishing.