Like many of the feminine persuasion, I’m a sucker for a good mani/pedi. Unfortunately, nail polish is often filled to the brim with harsh chemicals — boo, sad face, etc., etc.
The big three chemical culprits in nail polish are Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) and Formaldehyde. Toluene is toxic to the nervous system. Inhalation of toluene can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite, hearing loss and has been linked to malignant lymphoma among other things. DBP is a suspected teratogen and endocrine disruptor, meaning it is harmful to the reproductive system. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, i.e. it can cause cancer. High levels of exposure can also lead to respiratory problems, skin conditions, and inflammation of mucus membranes.
Formaldehyde Resin and Camphor are other problematic chemicals. A derivative of formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin is not as toxic, but is still an allergen. And in rare cases when camphor is applied to the skin, it can cause liver damage.
Some argued that the average person (nail technicians aside) would inhale so little of these chemicals that the chances of them causing harm would be slim, but then in 2015, a study from Duke University and the Environmental Working Group made a disturbing finding. To top off all of the chemicals we may inhale when gettin’ our nails did, the study found that women who painted their nails with nail products that contained the chemical triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) had a metabolite of the chemical actually in their bodies 10 to 14 hours afterwards. TPHP is another endocrine disruptor, so exposure has been known to cause reproductive and developmental problems.
Lucky for us, we do have options that don’t contain all the bad stuff. There are many companies out there now that have polishes that don’t use these chemicals and don’t sacrifice great colors or good quality. You’ll typically find 3-free and 5-free options. Three-free polishes don’t have toluene, DBP or formaldehyde, while 5-free add formaldehyde resin and camphor to the chemicals omitted.
A personal fave of mine is Butter London. A bottle will run you $10-$15. Butter London was one of the first to coin the phrase 3-free, but has since continued to evolve. They continue to innovate their better-for-you formulas and today they boast a 8-free polish which doesn’t include ethyl tosylamide, xylene or TPHP in addition to what the 5-free excludes. Plus, they have an amaaaazing selection of colors and quality is top notch.
Zoya, which runs about $10 a bottle, is another good option. Its polishes are 5-free and in addition to the official Zoya site, the brand can also be found at Ulta, and is an option found at a lot of salons.
Another 5-free option is RGB. At $9 a bottle, all RGB products, formulas, and packaging are produced under fair trade conditions, are cruelty free (to animals and humans), gluten free, paraben free, and vegan.
Last but not least, for a little bit more high-end, look no further than LVX. LVX is a 7-free formula (no Xylene & Parabens), it’s vegan, cruelty free and made in the USA. At $18 a pop, LVX can claim to be a bit more fashion forward — boasting collaborations with the likes of Mara Hoffman, Tadashi Shoji, Tracy Reese and more, as well as creating exclusive shades for Fashion Week runway presentations.
LVX also makes a natural nail color remover for when you want to make like banana and split with that nail color without the harsh/toxic acetone that’s in a lot of formulas out there. For $20, you get 12 nail color remover pads that also contain pure jojoba oil, vitamins A, C and E, meant to nourish and strengthen nails and cuticles all while removing nail lacquer. Karma Organics Soybean Oil and Tea Tree Oil Nail Polish Remover is another less toxic, vegan and cruelty option for only $12.
Any great clean nail polishes that I missed?