Our contributor Madeleine of The Wise Consumer tested 6 non-toxic nail polish brands — here are her reviews.
What is “Non-Toxic Nail Polish”?
Have you ever wondered what nail polish labels like 3-Free, 7-Free or 10-Free mean? Ever wondered if non-toxic nail polish actually works as well as conventional nail polish? I did! So, I decided to do a bit of digging (and testing) — here’s what I discovered.
Decoding the Label: What Does ‘X-Free’ Polish Mean?
Have you heard of the ingredients dibutyl phthalate (DBP) or Toluene? How about formaldehyde or triphenyl phosphate (TPHP)? I explore each of these ingredients in more detail here but these ingredients, which until recently were commonly used in conventional nail polish brands, have been linked to reproductive, respiratory, and other harmful health conditions.**
While more research is warranted, there is growing evidence, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), that ingredients such as TPHP may affect hormone regulation, metabolism, reproduction and development.” And then there’s formaldehyde, which according to the FDA, “may make nails brittle and more likely to break or peel and may also cause skin irritation, as well as allergic reactions to this ingredient.” In short, you don’t want your nail polish to contain these ingredients.
The good news?
Today, more and more nail polish brands are omitting harmful ingredients from their nail polish formulas. Some are even going above and beyond, steering clear of other potentially disconcerning ingredients such as ethyl tosylamide and formaldehyde resin.
The ingredients that a brand omits from its formula ultimately determines how that brand will label itself, e.g., 3-Free, 5-Free, 7-Free and so on.
For example, a nail polish brand that is free of DBP, toluene, formaldehyde (aka the “toxic trio”) will label itself 3-Free.
Whereas a brand that is free of “the toxic trio” as well as formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, and TPHP is labeled 8-Free. There are even brands that are 10-Free and 16-Free, which I’ve broken down for you in more detail below.
7-Free: Nail polish formula is free of dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, Ethyl Tosylamide or xylene
8-Free: Nail polish formula is free of Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, DBP, Toluene, Camphor, Ethyl Tosylamide, Xylene, and TPHP.
10-Free: Nail polish is free of dibutyl phthalate, TPHP, toluene, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, camphor, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, parabens, and tert-butyl hydroperoxide.
16-Free: Nail polish formula is free of Formaldehyde, Toluene, Phthalates, including DBP, Formaldehyde resin, Camphor, Xylene, Ethyl tosylamide, Acetone, TPHP, Bisphenol A, Glycol ether of series E (which are glycol ethers derived from ethylene oxide), Nonylphenol ethoxylate, Sulfates, Added fragrance, Parabens, MEHQ/HQ, Methylisothiazolinone, Animal-derived ingredients.
While not all these ingredients have been scientifically proven to be harmful to your health, there’s nothing wrong with playing it safe and opting for brands that avoid these ingredients.
How Well Do Non-Toxic Nail Polishes Work?
To answer this question I spent the past few weeks testing out six different non-toxic nail polish brands. I was a bit skeptical — I wasn’t sure how great a brand labeled as 10-free or 16-free would compare to some of the conventional brands I had used in the past.
But, I am happy to report, I was pleasantly surprised. Overall each of the brands I tested worked really well! Some, of course, worked better than others.
Non-Toxic Nail Polish Reviews
1. London Town ($16)
I for sure thought I wouldn’t like this brand because it’s 16+ Free and I assumed it wouldn’t work. I was wrong. This is probably my favorite brand on this list! The polish had a great consistency, not too thick and not too thin, which made it really easy to apply (bonus: the brush made it really easy to apply as well). I loved the colors I tested — they were fun, shimmery, and best of all, lasted an entire week before chipping. Easy to remove remaining polish as well. Final thoughts: Absolutely recommend!
Conscious Qualities: 16+ Free, Vegan & Cruelty-Free, Powered by Botanicals or Infused with Flower Oils & Extracts
2. Butter London ($18)
Butter London was a close second. It was easy to apply, I didn’t need more than two coats, and it dried quickly. Plus, it had a really smooth texture. The polish lasted close to an entire week without chipping, had a great shine the entire time, and was easy to remove. And the brand’s Jelly Nail Strengtheners, which contain ingredients such as tea tree oil and bamboo extract, help to repair damaged nails from harsh nail formulas. Final thoughts: Absolutely recommend!
Conscious Qualities: 10-Free, Vegan & Cruelty-Free
3. Suite Eleven ($13)
While Suite Eleven doesn’t offer as many colors as some of the other brands on this list I really liked this brand and the fun and bold colors it carries. Most importantly, the polish was easy to apply and relatively thick (in a good way), meaning I didn’t need to apply 4 coats of polish to get the desired color. Plus, it dried really quickly, which I loved. This polish had a nice shine even once it dried, lasted almost an entire week (!) before starting to chip, and was easy to remove. I also liked the round shape of the bottle, very unique compared to most other nail polish brands. Final thoughts: Absolutely recommend!
Conscious Qualities: 10-Free, BIPOC-Owned, Handcrafted in the U.S., Made in Small Batches, PETA-Certified
4. Ten Over Ten ($12)
I liked Ten Over Ten but it was not my favorite because it chipped a bit too easily. This could very well have been a user error but I was disappointed that after only two days the nail polish had chipped. However, I liked how smooth and shiny the nail polish was and how potent the colors were. After just two coats the colors provide a complete, even, and full cover. Plus, TenOverTen polish was super easy to apply! The bottle design is also really fun! Final thoughts: Recommend!
Conscious Qualities: 8-Free, Vegan & Cruelty-Free, Recycling Initiatives
5. Sundays ($18)
I loved Sundays’ darker colors — they were easy to apply and provided even and full coverage. The lighter colors, on the other hand, “puddled” a bit when applied and required numerous coats. Overall, I found this nail polish to be a bit thinner than some of the other brands. That being said, once applied, it dried quickly and lasted almost an entire week before starting to chip. It also maintained its color and shine throughout the week which I really appreciated! Final thoughts: Opt for darker colors!
Conscious Qualities: 10-Free, Vegan & Cruelty-Free, BIPOC-Owned
6. Jin Soon ($18)
I liked Jin Soon’s polish but didn’t love it. It was a bit too “thin” for my taste and “puddled” a bit too easily on my nail when applied. I also needed to apply a few different coats before getting the opaqueness I desired and had a tough time applying the lighter colors as I couldn’t get them to cover the nail evenly. That being said, the darker colors worked great, and once applied the polish lasted almost an entire week. It also had a nice shine, even without a topcoat. And, I loved the glitter polish, Bijou, so fun and definitely long-lasting! Plus, Jin Soon has so many playful colors to choose from — so a lot of room to get creative! Final thoughts: Opt for darker colors!
Conscious Qualities: 10-Free, BIPOC-Owned, Vegan & Cruelty-Free.
Overall, I am really impressed by all these nail polish brands and appreciate that I can paint my nails again without worrying about toxic chemicals!
** It’s worth emphasizing that even the FDA recommends “consumers should read labels of nail products carefully and follow any warnings. As noted above, some ingredients in nail products may be harmful if swallowed. Some can easily catch fire if exposed to the flame of the pilot light of a stove, a lit cigarette, or other heat source, such as the heating element of a curling iron. Nail products also can be dangerous if they get in the eyes. Infections and allergic reactions can occur with some nail products. Make sure to have good ventilation when you use nail products. If you have a reaction to a nail product, please report it to FDA.”
About the Author
Madeleine is a Franco-American podcaster and blogger on a mission to inspire and empower women to live healthier, more eco-friendly, and conscious lifestyles. On her blog/podcast, The Wise Consumer, she covers topics ranging from nutrition and recipes to ethical fashion and eco living tips. When not working Madeleine is either spending time with family, developing new recipes, or running trails.
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