Who Says It’s Good For You? The Truth About “Non-Toxic” Nail Polish

green-beauty-organic-nail-polish-redCan nail polish be “natural?” Let’s get real: No matter how many eco-friendly labels get slapped on the bottle, most of these products do contain chemicals–some of which can be dangerous to our health, and to the environment. Don’t let those labels fool you: Even so called “non-toxic” polishes should be disposed of as hazardous waste according to Earth911.com.

Remember, unless a beauty product is USDA Certified Organic, its manufacturer is not required to list ingredients on the label. Which is why we get “fragrance,” and it can mean 3,100 different chems. Literally.

But what about “organic?” The word is defined by the Random House Dictionary as “noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.”

Basically, “organic” material comes from formerly living substances and is not necessarily good for you. Think motor oil. Organic, yes. USDA Certified Organic, no.

But we digress. Even an ecoista uses nail polish once in a while. Here’s what you need to know:


Most of the major polish brands are going “big three free,” meaning they’ve taken the most well known toxic ingredients–formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate (DBP)–out of their formulas. But some still contain chemical solvents, typically acetate derivatives (that’s the stuff that makes it stinky). And some have gotten flak for “hidden” ingredients like formaldehyde resin, which may not be listed on labels.


OPI is one of those brands: The industry’s biggest name has taken the toxic trifecta out of their best-selling polishes, but do include formaldehyde resin and acetate derivatives in their formulations. According to OPI chemist Paul Bryson, the difference between formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin can be confusing. “Formaldehyde is one of the raw materials that is used to make resin, but…when the resin is made, the formaldehyde molecule is torn apart: part of it becomes a water molecule and part of it is incorporated permanently into the resin molecule.” Not to get all chemical on your or anything, but Bryson also notes that formaldehyde’s highly reactive carbon-oxygen double bond also disappears in the process, meaning OPI’s big-three free polishes probably won’t blow up if you light them on fire. Bonus!




Orly revolutionized nails when founder Jeff Pink introduced the French manicure in 1975; daughter-in-law Shel Pink was one of the first–in 2004–to create a vegan polish that eliminated DBP, toluene, formaldehyde (and formaldehyde resin), and phthalate derivatives, synthetic dyes, parabens, and petrochemicals. Although the formulations do include butyl and ethel acetate, the color selection and hipness factor can’t be beat: SpaRitual is the polish of choice for ecoistas everywhere.



Paraben-free Firozé claims to be the first polish company to have taken out DBP (in 1999). Their polishes do include butyl and ethel acetate but no toluene, formaldehyde or formaldehyde resin. Firozé also fortifies their polishes with herbs, vitamins, essentials oils and soy and rice polymers; their acetone-free polish remover is made with corn. And they never, ever test on animals.



Karma Organic Spa

Nausil Zaheer is a celebrity manicurist who was sick and tired of coming home from commercial shoots smelling like acetone. He developed the big-three, formaldehyde-resin and acetate-free Karma Organic Spa line of nail polish and remover that now boasts 80 shades of polish. Karma’s amazing Lavender and Tea Tree essential oil nail polish removers remove polish, condition nails–and leaves your hands smelling like you just walked out of a spa!




Looking for big-three and petrochemical-solvent free–including acetates? Look no further than water-based polishes, which use the aforementioned H20 as a solvent, won’t yellow the nails and aren’t considered hazardous materials. Acquarella polish needs no base or top coat and stays on for weeks–make sure to buff away surface oils before applying.


Hopscotch Kids

The Hopscotch Kids WaterColors line is designed for rugrats, but moms-in-the-know grab it first. Hopscotch founder and mother of four Ginny Cardenas says that when you first use water-based polish, you may notice that it peels and chips because the polish is drawing away the solvents that your old polish left behind, but after a few treatments with water-based polish, you’ll never know the difference. We’re not sure on the science, but our pretty polish stayed on and we’re counting the days until Scotch Naturals for adults launches next month.


Courtesy of Eco Stiletto.

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  1. Mollene says:

    I am VERY interested in this article since I am very allergic to nail polish. There is one that I can use, but it hasn’t been made for many years. I have never been able to figure out which ingredient or ingredients I am allergic to. I have tried many different kinds of polish, but the ones that don’t ‘stink’ I am not allergic to, however they are terrible polishes. They typically start chipping off by the second day after application. I wish in this article it told where to purchase the particular polishes they refer to, that would have been very helpful. When i click on the individual names in the ‘tags’ section it just takes me back to this article. Mollene

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