Taking control of the ingredients in your beauty regimen can feel empowering (after one gets over the initial disappointment that comes with learning your favorite conventional brands weren’t so great after all, of course). Perhaps just as empowering is learning to be your own beauty guru and mastering various DIY beauty treatments—whether that’s tidying up your brows, concocting your own facial masks, or trimming your bangs.
Until a few years ago, gel manicures were exclusive to nail salons. Luckily for us gel manicure lovers (with an adventurous spirit), we can now try our hand at ultra-shiny gel nails from the comfort of our homes. Even better, there are now brands that offer vegan, cruelty-free gel nail polish that’s also free of the five major nail polish toxins and allergens: formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, DBP (dibutyl phthalate), and camphor.
What does “5-free” mean?
Choosing to do gel manicures at home minimises your exposure to the fumes that may be floating around a conventional nail salon, and selecting polish from progressive brands means you don’t have to worry about those five toxins and allergens. Here’s why that’s important:
Formaldehyde is a nail polished hardener. It’s classified as a known a human carcinogen by The International Agency for Research on Cancer. Furthermore, it may contribute to immune system-toxicity and liver problems. Formaldehyde resin, a byproduct of formaldehyde, is a suspected allergen.
Toluene is solvent is used to dissolve paint, ink, and adhesive, among other materials; it’s restricted by the European Union and listed in California state’s Prop 65 as a chemical harmful to fetal development although it’s safety is contested by some nail polish manufacturers. The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) links long-term exposure to this toxin to depression and memory loss.
Camphor adds a glossy shiny finish to nails. It’s not necessarily considered a toxin, but it has been associated with severe skin irritation and allergic reactions.
DBP (Dibutyl Phthalate) is used to minimise chipping. There is strong evidence that DBP is an endocrine disruptor, meaning that it may interfere with healthy hormonal balance. It’s banned by the EU and classified by the Australian government as a reproductive and hormonal toxicant.
That said, even when you’re using safe gel polish, gel nails are still best reserved for special occasions. Gel nail polish, like conventional nail polish, can take its toll on natural nails if used too often or removed improperly. To keep your nails healthy, give them plenty of breaks from all polish—and don’t forget to moisturise your cuticles.
Where to shop 5-free
Now for the fun part! We’d like to introduce you to two vegan, cruelty-free, 5-free luxe gel polish brands.
Brand ethos: “Our brand is in a continuous process of creating healthy products that are always vegan, cruelty-free and 5-free (in the case of nail care products).* This decision came from our desire to take into consideration the well-being of our customers and ‘the compromise’ was never the answer!”
In addition to never compromising in the ingredients department, Madam Glam polish is beautiful, long-lasting (up to 2 weeks), and easy to apply. Like gels at the salon, they cure under a UV or LED lamp (I recommend LED—it’s faster and safer for skin). The shade featured here is “Amour,” a classic red creme—but don’t be fooled, the line offers every colour imaginable—from demure to edgy to ultra glittery.
Brand ethos: “We’re a beauty brand that creates product with you in mind. We put in wholesome ingredients, and work to take out everything that we wouldn’t want on our own nails out. That’s why you can always count on NCLA products to be cruelty-free, vegan, and 7-Free.** Our products are created to be used at home, or in a salon, to guarantee that what you see is what you get.”
NCLA Gelous? gel polishes have a distinctly cool California aesthetic. Turn to NCLA gels if you’re going for a creative, fresh vibe. (Their nail wraps are equally fun.)
*Madam Glam also creates lip colours – see them here.
**7-Free polishes also exclude Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP) and Xylene, a potential endocrine disruptor and an irritant, respectively. The Madam Glam polishes featured here also exclude those ingredients.
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