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I don’t know about you, but painted nails always makes me feel better. I’ve gone through a multitude of nail trends, from acrylics and Shellac to wearing a rainbow of colours and nail art designs. When I was younger, it didn’t cross my mind that nail polish contained chemicals, even though I have always been health-aware. The idea that nail polish was potentially toxic, both to me (and to the environment when discarded), was something I really wasn’t aware of.
But now it’s common knowledge that conventional nail polishes contain a number of chemicals that no one should be inhaling or applying to their nails, or even worse, on children. I always wondered why the nail technicians wore masks (mainly, it’s acrylic and acetone that are known to be toxic if inhaled regularly,) and now I realise why!
The New York Times recently ran a piece about the growing concern over health risks in the nail polish industry. I think there’s still confusion about how to differentiate a non-toxic polish from a toxic one. And what’s the difference between 3-free or 8-free?
Non Toxic Nails
So here’s my go-to guide on buying a safe, non-toxic nail polish.
Which ingredients should we avoid?
The three main offenders, often referred to as the ‘Big Three’, are Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde and Toluene.
- Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) – This is used in polishes to minimise chipping. It has been linked to organ and reproductive problems.
- Formaldehyde – A known carcinogen, this colourless and highly flammable gas is used to harden the polish as it dries.
- Toluene – This chemical can cause dizziness and problems of the nervous system. It’s used in nail varnish to evenly distribute the colour.
What is 3 Free Nail Polish?
Nail polishes that don’t contain these ingredients are known as 3-free – and these were the first non-toxic nail polishes on the market.
Since then, there are also 5-free polishes which are free from formaldehyde resin, which although it is not carcinogenic, it is a known allergen; and also that potentially does contain residual traces of formaldehyde) and camphor, which isn’t toxic but can be an irritant.
Following on from 5-free, there are 8-free which 8-Free, toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), ethyl tosylamid, and xylene.
And most recently, 12-free polishes which are also free from benzophenone -1 and -3, a toxic chemical that prevents colour fading.
5 of the safest, non-toxic nail polishes I’ve found
Many brands claim to be safe and natural, but are they? I’ve spent time trawling the shelves to find 5 brands that are not only non-toxic, they work!
Founded in 2005, Butter London was one of the first free-from nail polish brands on the market. Butter’s vegan-friendly, 8-free formula delivers an ultra-shiny finish, along with even coverage in a single coat. It literally glides onto your nails like butter!
And, last but not least, the colour lasts for up to 7 days with minimal chipping and fading. All Butter’s nail products are formulated without formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, DBP, toluene, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, Xylene and TPHP.
If you’re looking for non-toxic makeup products, check out Butter’s make-up range which contains no parabens, mineral oil, petrolatum, sodium lauryl sulfate, phthalates, BHA and triclosan.
My colour pick: Sheer Jelly
A firm favourite with models, make-up artists and manicurists, French nail brand, Kure Bazaar have a range of over 70 super-chic shades in a variety of textures – matt, glitter or shimmer.
Their 90 % natural, 10-free formulas are made from wheat, cotton, wood pulp, potatoes and corn and the formulas are also free from benzophenone -1 and -3.
My colour pick: Coquette
Stockist: Content Wellbeing
If you’re looking for a brand that is vegan-friendly, high-quality and non-toxic, Yapa ticks all the boxes. Yapa polishes are also free from lead, which can accumulate in the body if used regularly, leading to health problems and lead-poisoning.
They also contain no hydroquinone monomethyl ether (MEHQ/HQ) which can cause skin and eye irritation. I’m particularly drawn to Yapa’s metallic shades which are definitely attention-grabbing!
The brush makes application easy and the varnish glides on smoothly. I found that the polish lasted for well over a week before chipping or flaking so it’s definitely top of my list when it comes to staying power.
My colour pick: Cheryl
Stockist: Yapa Beauty
Founded in 1986 by Zoya and Michael Reyzis, Zoya is now a ‘BIG10 Free’ brand and their polishes contain no toluene, camphor, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, parabens, TPHP, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, dibutyl phthalate or lead.
The polishes are also cruelty-free, vegan-friendly and ‘breathable’, as they have been formulated to allow molecules of water and oxygen to pass through the polish to the nail bed maintain healthy nails.
My colour pick: Mercedes
Having scooped numerous awards from Stylist Magazine, Beauty Shortlist and Natural Health, Nailberry has become one of the most successful non-toxic nail polish ranges.
12 Free, vegan-friendly, cruelty-free and Halal certified, the range is the brainchild of manicurist Sonia Hully. She launched Nailberry in 2012 to address the nail-needs of her clients at her Nail Bar in Chelsea, London.
Formulated to encourage healthier, happier nails, Nailberry’s L’Oxygéné technology helps to prevent damage and dehydration.
My colour pick: Cocoa Cabana
I’m really impressed with these 5 nail brands. Some brands that I tried didn’t make the cut as they didn’t perform well in my trial. Of all the brands, my absolute favourite is Yapa.
From the fabulous colour choice (on-trend shades right through to everyday neutrals, means that there’s something for everyone) to the durability which is second to none, this range out-performed all the ranges that I road-tested by a long way, especially on staying-power.
I also love Butter London, especially the packaging – and their amazing range of reds. The varnish goes on really smoothly and evenly too. Nailberry is super-stylish and I love their shade names. Who could resist Dial M for Maroon, Viva La Vegan, Glamazon or Hippie Chic? And their colours are a must-have for any would-be style queen!
Zoya and Kure Bazaar are both perfect if you’re looking for gorgeous, on-trend shades, although their formulations are not as long-lasting as the others that I tried.
Have you been trying to move over to more natural non toxic products? If you have you may enjoy this post on cult beauty favourite Egyptian Magic.