Best Non Toxic Nail Polish [An Essential Guide]

Best Non Toxic Nail Polish [An Essential Guide]

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I have decided to find the best non toxic nail polish or at least some less toxic alternatives because conventional nail polish can be one of the most toxic beauty products.

Many contain a host of harmful chemicals which are especially toxic to children and pregnant women.

 

Even though I’ve been living consciously for almost 4 years now, there are still areas that I basically ignored when it came to toxins and one of them being nail polish. 

 

My daughter is 3 now and I know one day very soon she will ask me to paint her nail in all the colors especially pink and I have to be ready for that day.

 

I’m going to break down my favorite and the best non toxic nail polish for you. Rest assured, I have read each ingredient label thoroughly and researched every ingredient.

I wanted to create a non toxic nail polish guide so here are the topics I am covering in this blog post:

Why Should You Switch to Non Toxic Nail Polish?

Switching from your old toxic products to a safer, non toxic nail polish gives you a great manicure without compromising your nails or general health.

You are basically replacing the old toxic formulation with plant-derived and organic ingredients.

It is however advisable to be cautious when choosing polish that claims to exclude any number of toxic ingredients.

Just because it did not include some toxic chemicals doesn’t mean the ones it’s used in their place are safe enough. 

So, even if your formula claims to be toxin free, check the present ingredients to ensure they’re safe for you and your child. 

Top 10 Toxic Chemicals to Avoid in Nail Polish

If you have been to a nail salon, most of the employees are wearing masks.

Why do you think that is?

It is basically to protect them from the nail polish fumes and the strong smells that they inhale for hours on end each day!

Before we dive into the review of the best polishes, I want to share studies with you of the 10 toxins that you must avoid and the reasons why.

Below you can download “The Nasty File” for FREE which gives you a handy guide on which ingredients to avoid in beauty and personal care products.

1. DBP (Dibutyl Phthalate)

Uses: Mainly used in nail products as a solvent for dyes and as a plasticizer that prevents nail polishes from becoming brittle and to minimize chipping.

Health Effects: Phthalates are classified as endocrine disruptors and mimic the hormone estrogen in your body. Phthalate exposure in utero may cause significant alterations in the DNA methylation in cord blood, cause organ damage, and may even instigate early-onset menopause.

Studies: Though no human studies have been done on DBP, animal studies show similar results to human phthalate studies, including decreased fertility, hormonal disruption, bioaccumulation, and liver damage. 

Regulations: The European Union banned DBP in cosmetic and personal care products, and the Australian government currently classifies DBP as a risk to the human reproductive system. In the United States, California classifies it as a reproductive and hormonal toxicant, but the federal government does not.

NOTE: Any ingredient that contains the word Phthalate should be avoided.

Abbreviations: DBP, DEHP and DEP

2. Toluene

Uses: Toluene found naturally in crude and is added to gasoline and is used in the making of many products including paint thinners, adhesives, rubber, hair dyes and nail polish. Toluene is the nail polish ingredient used to create a smooth application and finish. It has a sweet, pungent smell and is also found in most conventional nail polish removers. However, its fumes are highly toxic

Health Effects: Developmental and reproductive toxicity, organ system toxicity and skin irritant.

Studies: A Korean study that looked at workers chronically exposed to toluene below 100 ppm found that this lower dose exposure was associated with neuro-behavioral changes and could result in attention, concentration and motor performance deficits. 

Regulations: The European Union has restricted the use of toluene in personal care products, including nail polish, and advises that pregnant women and children should not be exposed to its fumes. In California, toluene is on the state’s Prop 65 list of chemicals that are harmful to fetal development.

3. CAMPHOR

Uses: Camphor is the ingredient used to give conventional nail polishes their glossy, shiny appearance and also is sometimes used in cold remedies such as vapor rubs and nasal sprays.

Health Effects: It has been shown to trigger severe skin irritation and allergic reactions when applied topically, and inhaling its fumes can cause nausea, dizziness, and headaches.

Studies: Observational studies have also linked camphor exposure to organ damage, such as liver dysfunction. 

Regulations: Camphor in personal care products is limited to a concentration of 11% in the US, and it is being phased out in markets within the European Union.

4. Formaldehyde

Uses: Formaldehyde is used to harden and strengthen nail polishes, also serving as a preservative that protects against bacterial growth. Formaldehyde is naturally produced by the body in incredibly small amounts. At this low level, formaldehyde is not dangerous.

Health Effects:  Exposure to larger doses of formaldehyde in the air or on the skin may cause cancer of the throat, nose, and blood. Repeated exposure can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs and cause abnormal fetal development in pregnant women.

It has been recognized by the National Cancer Institute as a potential cancer-causing substance. It is also among the most common substances that cause allergic contact dermatitis.

Regulations: The European Union allows only limited use of formaldehyde in personal care products, while Japan and Sweden have banned it completely.

5. Formaldehyde Resin

Uses: Formaldehyde resin functions as a film former and plasticizer. It imparts high gloss and good flow properties. Formaldehyde resin adds depth, gloss and hardness to the film of the nail polish. It is also an ingredient that helps the nail polish better adhere to your nails.

Health Effects: It is not classified as a carcinogen like formaldehyde but is a known skin allergen and has been proven to cause dermatitis.

6. Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP)

Uses: Triphenyl Phosphate is known as a plasticizer, used in nail polish to improve its flexibility and durability as well as medical equipment.

Health Effects: The causes of TPHP has been linked with endocrine impacts, reproductive, and even development irregularities.

Studies: A new study by researchers at EWG and Duke University finds that nail polishes can contain a suspected endocrine disruptor called Triphenyl Phosphate, or TPHP. Researchers tested the urine of 26 women volunteers before and after they applied nail polish. They were looking for DPHP (Diphenyl Phosphate), a different chemical created by the body when it metabolizes TPHP. They detected much higher levels of DPHP after the polish was applied.

Regulations: The chemical is banned from use in cosmetics in Europe and is considered a reproductive toxin by California.

7. xylene

Uses: Xylene is a commonly used solvent in nail polish used to thin or to ensure your nail polish doesn’t get lumpy. Xylene also often gives nail polish its distinguished odor.

Health Effects: Xylene enter the body and cause toxic effects on immunological, gastrointestinal, respiratory, developmental, reproductive and CNS as shown in the Table 1 below.

It has been proven to be a common allergen whose vapors can cause eye & skin irritation, headaches, dizziness and nausea.

Studies: Read this study done by Tehran University of its health hazards and preventive measures.

Regulations: Limited or incomplete evidence of cancer according to safety/hazard data – government assessment cannot classify as a human carcinogen due to data gaps. 

Xylene study
TABLE 1 - Xylene enter the body and cause toxic effects on immunological, gastrointestinal, respiratory, developmental, reproductive, and CNS as shown.

8. Ethyl Tosylamide

Uses: Ethyl Tosylamide is a highly viscous, amber liquid used primarily as plasticizer and film former in coatings like nail polish. It also acts as a secondary film former.

Health Effects: Not much public research has been done (very hard to find), but this chemical like others in this list has been known to cause bodily harm if overexposed. 

Regulations: It has been banned by the EU due to its antibiotic properties and potential contribution to antibiotic resistance. 

9. PARABENS

Uses: Parabens are preservatives used in a wide variety of personal care products and foods to prevent the growth of microbes. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals can be absorbed through skin, blood and the digestive system.

Health Effects: Parebens are potential endocrine disruptors due to their ability to mimic estrogen. They have been associated with the increased risk of breast cancer and skin cancer. 

Studies: Laboratory evidence suggests that maternal exposure to Isobutyl Paraben during gestation can lead to anxiety and behavioral changes in offspring.

Regulations: Some forms of parabens are banned in Denmark (Propyl Paraben and Butyl Paraben) in cosmetics products for children up to 3 years.

Earth Mama Organic Castile Soap

10. Animal derived Ingredients

Ingredient names such as Guanine, Carmine, Tallow, Gelatin, Shellac and Lanolin are all derived from animals. See my blog post here where I talk about this in detail.

Uses: In nail polish most commonly include Guanine and Carmine.

Guanine: Industrially manufactured from the scales and skin of fish. Guanine provides a pearly, iridescent effect when used in cosmetics and personal care products such as nail polishes and lipsticks.

Carmine: Red dye obtained from crushed female cochineal scale insects, more than 150,000 insects may be required for 2 pounds of dye!! Please note that a product can say “All Natural” ingredients and has Carmine in it.

Health Effects: Both Carmine and Guanine have not been proven to cause serious health problems but I have chosen to stay away from them because I do not want to use any beauty and personal care products that contain animal derived ingredients especially crushed bugs!

Regulations: To be used as a colorant, Carmine must comply with FDA specifications. This includes the requirement that Carmine must be pasteurized or otherwise treated to destroy all viable Salmonella microorganisms. Link to FDA Code of Federal Regulations for Carmine.

Carmine is listed as CI 75470 (coloring agent allowed for use in cosmetic products) of the Cosmetics Directive of the European Union and may be used without restriction when purity requirements are fulfilled. When used in cosmetic products in the European Union, this ingredient must be called CI 75470. See EU regulations here. 

FDA regulation on Guanine indicates that it consists of two purines, Guanine and Hypoxanthine. The Guanine content varies from 75 to 97% and the Hypoxanthine content varies from 3 to 25% depending on the particular fish from which the crystals are derived. 

Guanine usage must be following certain specifications and shall be free from impurities. See all FDA specifications here

Water-Based Nail Polish v.s. Regular Nail Polish

Conventional nail polish consists of a polymer, most commonly Nitrocellulose, dissolved in a solvent, usually Ethyl Acetate or Butyl Acetate.

When it is applied the solvent evaporates, leaving the polymer to form a film on the nail.

The main ingredients in water-based nail polish are acrylic polymer emulsion, water, and colorants.

Both the Nitrocellulose and chemical solvents in regular nail polish are flammable. This makes regular nail polish dangerous to use near open flames. 

Neither the Acrylic nor the water in water-based nail polish are flammable, making it safer to use. The chemical solvents in regular nail polish give the polish an unpleasant and potentially toxic smell. 

Regular nail polishes vary greatly in how long they last on the nails. Water-based nail polishes tend to last about one week on fingernails. Some brands of water-based nail polish can easily last for a month on toenails without chipping. 

Water-based nail polish has many advantages, aside from being completely free from toxins. They are quick drying, durable, and is available in many various long lasting colors. It doesn’t stain the fingernails or dry them out.

It could take more coats to get the desired color, which means that one bottle may not last long before it needs replacing. It may also be more likely to chip off after it has been applied. Another possible downside is that most types of water-based nail polish are slow to dry.

But I would personally prefer a water-based polish over conventional nail polish mainly for non toxic ingredients and smell.

regular nail polish vs water based nail polish
Shop Green Beauty at The Detox Market

Difference Between 3-Free, 5-Free, 7-Free, 10-Free and 15-Free Non Toxic Nail Polish

Until I decided to find a non toxic nail polish for myself, I never paid attention to the ingredients list on nail polish to even see how many toxic ingredients are excluded and why I should even care! 

While there’s no such thing as a truly or totally “natural” nail polish (unless you are good at DIY), you may notice that in each non toxic nail polish description they have numbered labels such as 3-Free, 5-Free, 7-Free, 10-Free or 15-Free. 

These are actually an indicator as to how many potentially toxic ingredients are “absent” from the nail polish formulation!

What is 3-Free Nail Polish? It means it is made without the use of Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate and Formaldehyde.

What is 5-Free Nail Polish? It means it is made without the use of  Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin and Camphor.

What is 7-Free Nail Polish? It means it is made without Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, Triphenyl Phosphate and Xylene.

What is 10-Free Nail Polish? It is made without Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, Triphenyl Phosphate, Xylene, Ethyl Tosylamide, Parabens and without animal ingredients. 

What is 15-Free Nail Polish? A few companies go above and beyond and have excluded 15 toxic chemicals from their nail polishes. It is made without Formaldehyde, Toluene, DBP, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, Xylene, TPHP, Nitrocellulose Plasticizers, Glycol Ethers, BPA, Acetates, Phenoxyethanol, Parabens, Phthalates, Soy, Gluten, Synthetic FD&C Dyes, and GMOs.

NOTE: A study published in late 2018 in Environmental Science & Technology warns, there are no uniform standards for labeling of non toxic nail polish, and the substitute ingredients may be just as toxic or not!

Also, the labeling of exclusion of non toxic chemicals is only defined by the company.

→ Remember that it’s not as simple as what’s NOT in the nail polish, you have to address what’s being substituted in as a replacement chemical.

kids subscription boxes

Best Non Toxic Nail Polish Brands

And now for the good stuff!

For the purpose of this blog post I will only include a minimum of 10-Free non toxic nail polish because that is what I would use for myself and my daughter.

Here is are the best non toxic nail polish brands that offer “less toxic” nail polish alternatives:

SOPHi is better than 7-Free & 10-Free nail polish, SOPHi is free of ALL harsh and smelly chemicals!

SOPHi non toxic nail polish does NOT contain formaldehyde or formaldehyde resin, toluene, DBP, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, TPHP, animal ingredients, acetone, mercury, lead, gluten, alcohol, parabens, or phthalates.

SOPHi Nail Polish Ingredients: Water, Acrylates copolymer and Neem Oil. May also contain the following colorants (depending on shade): Red 7, Red 34, Red 28, Red 17, Iron oxide, Titanium dioxide, Ultramarines, Chrome Green, Mica, Violet 19

SOPHi Nail Polish Remover Ingredients:  1,3-dioxolane, Algin, Coconut Fragrance Oil, Aloe Vera and Vitamin E.

Pros: Low odor, water-based (75% water), cruelty-free, vegan, non-toxic, and made in the USA.

Cons: If you don’t follow directions and skip the blow drying the polish peels right off. Like any nail polish, it does chip but if you use the Primer + Shine system the chips are dramatically reduced and the shine is completely worth it.

Allergen Statement: SOPHi non toxic polish is gluten, soy, and nut free. SOPHi nail polish remover contains coconut.

→ Search the Skin Safe database to avoid common allergy causing ingredients.

Kids Safe? Yes, this brand is safe for kids too.

Pregnancy Safe? Safe for pregnant & nursing moms.

Buy This Non Toxic Nail Polish:

Kure Bazaar was started over 6 years ago by model Kartika Luyet.

Looking for a completely safe polish formula while she was pregnant with her first child, she didn’t want to compromise her unique style, and so Kure Bazaar was born.

Kure Bazaar formulas 10-FREE without the addition of Toluene, Formaldehyde, Dibutyl phthalate, Synthetic Camphor, TPHP, Paraben, Xylene, Styrene, Benzophenone-1, -3 Nano Color.

Kure Bazaar do not test on animals and their products are suitable for vegans.

Kure Bazaar Nail Polish Ingredients: Butyl Acetate, Ethyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Isosorbide Dicaprylate/Caprate, Adipic Acid/Neopentyl Glycol/Trimellitic Anhydride Copolymer, Alcohol, Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Isopropyl Alcohol, Stearalkonium Bentonite, Diacetone Alcohol, N-Butyl Alcohol, Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil (Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil), Polyurethane-67, Phosphoric Acid, Methoxyisopropyl Acetate, Bambusa Vulgaris Extract, Decyl Alcohol, Tocopherol.

Pros: 90% natural with ingredients derived from corn, potatoes and bamboo! Long wear and dries fast. Vegan and cruelty-free. Does not damage nails and no staining of nails.

Cons: They are not the most affordable brand, but I like the formula, color selection and packaging. I truly think they give other high end (non toxic) brands a run for their money.

Allergen Statement: Contains wheat and corn.

Pregnancy Safe? Yes, Kure Bazaar is safe during pregnancy and those who suffer from sensitivities to traditional polishes.

Buy This Non Toxic Nail Polish:

Best Non Toxic Nail Polish Brands for Kids

I would highly recommend not to use traditional nail polish made for adults on young kids, especially if they’re still in the habit of thumb or finger sucking.

Regardless of what research has shown, the buzz around this hot button topic has managed to pressure major manufacturers to revamp their ingredients. In the midst of growing concern from parents, some companies have developed safer polish options for little fingers and toes.

Best option for kids are nontoxic and water-based nail polishes which also happen to be much easier to clean up if they choose to apply it themselves.

Here are my two favorite non toxic nail polish brands for kids:

Melanie Hurley aka Queen Piggy is the founder of Piggy Paint.

One day while painting nails over a foam plate, her daughter dropped a glob of her solvent-based polish onto the plate. Shortly after, the paint began to bubble and “ate” through the plate!  

Her quest was on for a safer alternative, and Piggy Paint was born.

This non-toxic, water-based polish doesn’t wash or peel off, and comes in dozens of vibrant shades.

It is virtually odorless, free of ALL harsh chemicals, cruelty-free & vegan!

Does NOT contain Formaldehyde or Formaldehyde resin, Toluene, DBP, Camphor, Ethyl Tosylamide, Xylene, TPHP, Animal Ingredients, Acetone, Mercury, Lead, Gluten, Alcohol, Parabens and Phthalates.

Piggy Paint Nail Polish Ingredients: Water, Acrylates Copolymer, Neem Oil.  May contain (depending on shade):  Ultramarines, Iron Oxide, Titanium Dioxide, Mica, Red 28, Red 34, Red 22, Red 7, Yellow 10, Violet 2, Zinc Sulfide/Copper, Chrome Green, Orange 5.

Piggy Paint Nail Polish Remover Ingredients: Corn alcohol, Aloe Vera extract, Vitamin E and embittering agent.

Pros: Affordable, low odor, water-based (75% water), cruelty-free, vegan, non-toxic, and made in the USA.

Cons: Might chip easily but Piggy Paint suggests for maximum chip resistance, blow dry polished nails for 1 minute on warm heat/low blower setting.

Allergen Statement: Piggy Paint nail polish is gluten, coconut, soy, and nut free. Their nail polish is not a food product, not manufactured in a food processing plant, and is not meant for ingestion, therefore does not contain any food allergens.

→ Search the Skin Safe database to avoid common allergy causing ingredients.

Kids Safe? Yes, this brand is safe for use on babies, toddlers and young children.

Pregnancy Safe? Yes,  this water-based polish is safe for pregnant & nursing moms.

Buy This Non Toxic Nail Polish:

water based piggy paint vs solvent based polishes
Water-Based Piggy Paint vs. Solvent-Based Nail Polishes

2. Prim & Pure (Made from Fruits & Veggies)

15-FREE Prim and Pure polish does NOT contain the top 7 concerning ingredients: Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, TPHP and Xylene.

But they didn’t stop there. Their nail polishes are also free of Nitrocellulose Plasticizers, Glycol Ethers, BPA, Acetates, Synthetic FD&C Dyes, Phenoxyethanol, Parabens, Phthalates, Soy, Gluten, and GMOs.

Prim & Pure Nail Polish Ingredients: Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Water, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Juice, Beta Vulgaris (Beet) Root Powder, Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Root Powder, Sucrose, Spinacia Oleracea (Spinach) Leaf Powder, Ribes Nigrum (Black Currant) Fruit Powder, Maldighia Glabra (Acerola Cherry) Fruit Powder, Silica Dimethyl Silylate

Pros: This natural nail polish formula is made of fruit and vegetable and it’s water base for a quick to dry and odorless formula that’s perfect for kids.

Prim & Pure nail polish dries quickly with each coat drying in UNDER ONE MINUTE! It is also easy to remove without the need for harmful chemical removers or thinners. This polish simply comes off with warm water soak.

Cons: It washes right off and that could be not desirable for some, but the good thing is that if you have very young kids, you do not need to worry about polish remover. 

Allergen Statement: Prim and Pure nail polish is soy and gluten-free

Kids Safe? Yes, this brand is safe for use on babies, toddlers and young children.

Pregnancy Safe? Yes,  this water-based polish is safe for pregnant & nursing moms.

Buy This Non Toxic Nail Polish for Babies and Toddlers:

Nail Polish Brand Does Matter

The easiest way to find trustworthy and non toxic nail polish is by looking for brands that have made it their mission to exclude toxic ingredients from nail polishes (the more the better).

Such brands use as little synthetic chemicals as possible, avoid animal products and include beneficial plant extracts. 

Have a list of different brands that manufacture non toxic nail polish. That way, you can choose one or several nail polishes from the various brands available.

Just make sure you do read the ingredients list carefully!

toxic and non toxic nail polish comparison

Non Toxic Nail Polish Remover

Removing nail polish on a regular basis can really wreck your nails!

Conventional removers such as Acetone generally contain strong solvents that have a harsh chemical smells! 

While Acetone works quickly and is one of the most common nail polish remover ingredients, it can really irritate your skin while making your nails dry and very brittle. 

Studies conducted on humans exposed briefly to Isopropyl Acetone experienced respiratory and/or eye irritation, headache or nausea. ⁠

Isopropyl Acetone may also lead to organ toxicity, particularly of the kidneys.

Try to look for soy or plant-based alcohols, natural oils to help hydrate your cuticles and essential oils instead of chemical fragrances.

Here are the best non toxic nail polish remover:

Non Toxic Nail Polish Brands

The Verdict

So what’s the verdict on non toxic nail polish you may ask?

I think it is nearly impossible to use completely 100% toxic free nail polish, I’ve done my very best to stay away from the most toxic ingredients.

I would not recommend a non toxic nail polish that I wouldn’t personally use.

Make sure you choose a toxin-free or less toxic nail polish which at least, has been labeled “10-Free” because in the end of the day nothing is more important than your health! 

I also want to note that nail salons typically do not use non toxic nail polish options. This means the air in nail salons is usually highly contaminated with chemicals.

I suggest avoiding nail salons entirely or wear a mask but if you do go to one. The last time I was at a nail salon was for my wedding!

If you do go, ask about the nail polish and removers they use and look for safer options.

I hope you enjoyed and feel more informed than before!

At the end of the day my goal is to educate not to create fear ♥

As always,

Read product labels,

Know your ingredients,

AND stay safe!

Non Toxic Nail Polish FAQ

How to find non toxic nail polish?

Most non toxic nail polishes are 3-Free, meaning they do not contain Formaldehyde, Toluene, and Dibutyl Phthalate. Additionally, nail polishes go as far as being 9-Free, 10-Free, or even 15-Free.

Does “less toxic” nail polishes take longer for my nails to dry?

They tend to take a bit longer to dry in compared to traditional nail polishes. However, nail beds appear to stain less frequently with non toxic formulas.

Is nail polish still toxic after drying?

Unfortunately, it looks like toxins from nail polish do stay in your body long after the polish dries. The chemical TPHP has been found to stay in the body several hours after using polish. If you and your child are a regular nail polish user, you can use the list of non toxic or low-toxic options mentioned above.

Does nail polish go into your bloodstream?

Studies have shown that chemicals in nail polish can be absorbed into the body. But the exact amount of absorption, and whether it is enough to have negative health effects, are not well established. It's best to avoid toxic nail polish and opt for at least 10-Free nail polish.

Can nail polish make you sick?

Formaldehyde Resin, Dibutyl Phthalate, and Toluene can cause allergic contact dermatitis. Studies have shown that chemicals in nail polish can be absorbed into the body.

Should toddlers wear nail polish?

It's not advised for the child to wear nail polish if they still sucks on her fingers or eats the polish. You must look at non toxic nail polish that has low odor which is suitable for children. They are also easy to clean up if they spill.

Are nail polish fumes toxic for babies and toddlers?

The chemical is also an irritant to the eyes and respiratory tract. In addition to inhaling the chemical during the nail painting process, your baby will also be exposed to formaldehyde the entire time that the polish is on her nails. The best non toxic nail polish brands that are safe are: Piggy Paint and Prim & Pure

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