Toxic Chemicals in Nail Polish + 35 Safer Alternatives

Toxic Chemicals in Nail Polish + 35 Safer Alternatives

We all love pretty nails but there are loads of crazy chemicals in nail polishes. Learn what’s really in your lacquer and explore safer alternatives.

We all love pretty nails, but there are loads of crazy toxic chemicals in nail polishes. We dug our way through this subject to explain what's really in your lacquer, and found quite a few acceptable alternatives to beautify your fingers and toes without the chemical load.

Hazardous Chemicals in Nail Polish

  • Toluene is an aromatic hydrocarbon VOC (volatile organic compound) known to cause reproductive harm and central nervous system problems.
  • Formaldehyde (and formaldehyde resin) is a known carcinogenic material. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have formally classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen.
  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)  is a toxic chemical known to cause reproductive system harm, especially in males. Both fertility and reproductive system development are adversely affected in parents and following generations.
  • Camphor becomes dangerous when it's ingested or inhaled continuously (and should never be used as a decongestant). It can cause seizures, nausea, vomiting, agitation, and stomachaches.
  • Xylene is a possible carcinogen that produces vapor that can depress the central nervous system and cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Ethyl tosylamide is a plasticizer and mixture of isomers of toluene and ethanesulfonamide that's barred from personal care products in Europe.
  • Parabens have been shown to mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen and are associated with the formation of breast cancer after having been found in breast tumors.
  • Lead is a well-known and proven neurotoxin that's been linked to learning, language, and behavioral problems, reduced fertility and hormone disruption.

How to Choose Safer Nail Polish

We found many nail polishes that contain fewer toxic ingredients can be separated into four different categories: 3, 5, 7, and 9-free. Each digit represents the number of toxic chemicals not present in the product.

We recommend choosing a 9-free nail polish since that's your best chance of avoiding dangerous chemicals, but eliminating even a few toxins from your daily life is a worthy goal.

3-Free Nail Polishes

These polishes contain no formaldehyde, toluene or DBP:

5-Free Nail Polishes

This list consists of polishes that are free of formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, DBP and camphor:

7-Free Nail Polishes

These products are free of formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, DBP, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, and xylene:

9-Free+ the Safest Nail Polishes

The following is our list of recommended nail polish brands. They're free of at least 9 commonly found polish chemicals including formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, DBP, parabens, camphor, lead, ethyl tosylamide, and xylene:

What's your favorite brand of non-toxic nail polish?

  1. Ohhhhh I’m so happy my nail polish is towards the BOTTOM of your list!!!! I wear Butter LONDON! I was using Spa Rituals because I thought that had to be good, but I LOVE Butter LONDON and while I knew it was safe, now I feel EVEN BETTER ABOUT IT!!! Thank you for all your amazing lists and information! I read every issue!

  2. I have a few of the 5-free polishes. I didn’t realize there were 7-free and 9-free so thanks for this info! I do have a question though: does most of the harm from the chemicals come when you’re applying the polish (breathing in the fumes) or after it’s dried & on your nails? Just wondering because during the warmer months I try to apply my polish outside to lessen some of the fumes. I’m sure it doesn’t help much but it makes me feel a little better.

    1. Sorry, Katie, we haven’t researched polish removers just yet. It’s definitely something we’re interested in learning about, so it’s on our ever-growing list of subjects to dig into! ~The Soft Landing Sisters

  3. I tried Acquarella. It was very pricey, but worse requires it’s own polish remover and several prep steps to ensure good application. After going through it, it lasted less than a day. I don’t recommend it at all.

  4. You should definitely add Bo-Po Nail polish to your list. ( )
    I bought it on, and it is truly non-toxic. It is my favourite by far, as I do not have to worry about my daughter using it. The colours are amazing, its fast drying and she loves that you can peel it off.

  5. Do you have any info on Mary Kay or Essie? My Mary Kay base coat contains camphor and a host of other interesting chemicals, but nothing else on this list. Thanks for all you ladies do!

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