What is eco-friendly nail polish?

One of my favorite ways to reduce stress is to recreate that spa experience at home. I usually start the evening with a bath-bombed soak followed by a mud mask, all while serenaded by Fleetwood Mac. Next up – the chemical bath over my nails that has such a pungent smell that my boyfriend can smell it from the other room. 

As I coat my nails, I too will breathe in the sadly familiar smell of alcoholic, artificial chemicals – mmmm, self care.

Most nail polish includes a cocktail of chemicals that are not only bad for the environment, but in some cases, your own health! I have compiled the most common toxins that you should avoid when shopping for nail polish so that you can breathe easier during your next mani/pedi – not just from knowing it’s a healthier alternative, but your nose will thank you.

In general, look for water-based polishes that have a label like “3 Free” or even “10 free,” depending on the toxins they exclude. Some brands even go as far as to certify their nail polish as vegan/cruelty free. 

Also don’t forget to be careful with your nail polish remover brands too! Here are some common ingredients to be aware of in both:

1. Formaldehyde/formaldehyde resin

Used for: protection against bacteria for long-term storage 

Caution: A known carcinogen and skin irritant

2. Toluene

Used to: dissolve other substances, is found naturally in the tolu tree

Caution: Can cause organ and reproductive toxicity, quite severe as it is added to gasoline

3. DBP (Dibutyl phthalate)

Used to: dissolve dyes and prevents nail polish from becoming brittle

Caution: When absorbed through the skin, it can enhance the ability of other chemicals to cause genetic mutations, although it is also shown in some studies to do that itself which can cause hormonal issues

4. Camphor

Used to: Keep the polish flexible after it’s dried and give it that glossy look, derived from the bark of the camphor tree

Caution: Small doses can be a skin irritant, and some organizations recommend that pregnant women avoid it

5. Ethyl tosylamide

Used to: harden the nail polish quickly

Caution: the ingredient has already been barred from personal care products in Europe due to its concern over antibiotic resistance

6. Xylene

Used to: keep nail polish from getting gloopy, a solvent

Caution:  known as an allergen and possible carcinogen

7. Parabens

Used to: preserve the polish for long periods of time

Caution: May affect estrogen levels

8. Acetone

Used to: Remove nail polish quickly

Caution: a skin irritant and can actually harm your nails by making them more dry and brittle


Used for: hardening nail polush

Caution: suspected endocrine disruptor that can cause changes in hormonal regulation, metabolism, etc.

10.  Gluten “hydrolyzed wheat protein”

Used to: strengthen nail polish

Caution: An allergen for many who may not know it is in their nail polish!

Sadly, the cosmetics industry is simply not as regulated in the U.S. and thus companies can sneak serious toxins into their products without even being legally allowed to warn the customer in some cases. As the trend towards buying eco/green moves, companies will be forced to adapt to a new standard and will hopefully quit this dishonesty and dangerous business practice. 

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