It’s disappointing to find out that something as fun and beautifying as a chic manicure can do some pretty ugly things—and we’re talking worse than the red stain from that fire-engine polish. The past few years have witnessed increased media attention paid to the dangerous chemicals present in many well-known nail polish brands.
Prior to significant consumer concern over nail polish safety, just about every bottle of polish (at least in the U.S.) contained dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, and formaldehyde, each with their own risks. DBP is a plasticiser and a variety of phthalate that has been linked to endocrine disruption (to put it simply: it messes with your hormones). The risks associated with DBP are so well documented that DBP has been banned in Europe. Toluene is a chemical that allows nail polish to glide on smoothly while giving it that distinct paint-thinner smell. High levels of toluene have been associated with increased risk of miscarriage, and some reports even link toluene to leukemia. While the amount of toluene in your nail polish may be minimal, nail technicians who are constantly exposed to the chemical are undoubtedly at risk. Formaldehyde, the stuff that helps nail polish harden, is a known human carcinogen.
Fortunately, large and independent brands alike have made efforts to eliminate DBP, toluene, and formaldehyde from their formulas and offer “3-free” polish. Leave it to conscious independent brands to take it a step further and offer “5-free” polishes. In addition to eschewing the three big nail polish toxins, these brands, including the seven listed below, are free of formaldehyde resin (an allergen) and camphor (also an allergen with some nasty side effects).
The following are just some of the more conscious cruelty-free nail polish brands offering a safer option for your manicure.
Although vegan brand ncLA offers several pretty nail lacquers, their true draw is their impressive collection of fashion-forward nail wraps. They’ve even collaborated with Beyoncé—need I say more?
Zoya is one of the more well-known 5-free nail polish brands. You can even find them at Ulta. Their seemingly endless collection of colors and textures may overwhelm the nail polish newbie, so consider yourself warned.
This vegan nail lacquer brand has been a sponsor of New York Fashion Week since 2005 and has designed custom colours for notable designers, including Stella McCartney, Vionnet, Acne studios, Donna Karan, and Monique Lhuillier.
This pop-culture savvy brand doesn’t take itself too seriously. Each stylish colour is given a title to make to you chuckle, including “I Give Good Tweet,” a Twitter-blue pastel, and “Magical AF,” a rainbow glitter polish.
With gorgeous shades in equally beautiful packaging, Habit’s nail polish proves that there’s nothing frumpy about “green” beauty. Each Habit polish is laced with myrrh to help condition nails.
Lauren B nail lacquer is long-lasting and high-shine—perfect for those who love the gel look, but prefer to skip the ordeal and hazards of actual gel polish.
The physician-developed brand offers a collection of on-trend hues that apply beautifully and last for days. More impressive perhaps is the brand’s commitment to raising awareness about Sensory Processing Disorder, a disorder that affects a person’s ability to appropriately respond to stimuli.
While natural beauty enthusiasts (myself included) are grateful for more health-conscious options, it’s important to remember that there are still several ingredients whose potential health risks remain unknown. The scientific community may still be evaluating the chemicals that are replacing ingredients like formaldehyde, so stay inquisitive, and don’t be afraid to contact a brand if you have any questions about the ingredients in its products. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that some brands, especially the smaller ones, are eager to interact with a curious customer.
Have you tried any of these cruelty-free, 5-free nail polish brands?