Updated with new polishes in 2019.
It happens all the time when you’re trying to be non-toxic. You throw out your evil, no-good, terrible product, and realize your non-toxic replacement is just not as good.
Laundry detergent that doesn’t quite clean as well, eyeliner that barely lines, deodorant that leaves you odorous–they all exists. Good replacements can be found, but you have to do some searching.
Nail polish is no exception. Many of the ones you know and love–Cover Girl, Orly, Sally Hansen (including the nail polish strips), L’Oreal, Sephora, Maybelline, Wet n’ Wild, Ulta, and O.P.I.–have toxins like dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde resin, benzophenone, propyl paraben, oxybenzone. You can click on those links to get a list of their ingredients. (Hint: Orly is the worst. Stay far away!)
Formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and toluene are the dirty three everyone always talks about, but now new brands of nail polishes have hit the shelves claiming to be 5-free. That includes jettisoning formaldehyde resin and camphor as well. So they are squeaky clean!
I decided to test as many nail polishes that are cited as natural and non-toxic alternatives as I could find and report on the results. For all, I had them put on at a nail salon, because I’m terrible at doing my own nails. I wore each for one week before photographing the results. Here’s what I found:
I found this nail polish on BLK + GREEN, an online store featuring clean beauty products from black-owned businesses. This nail polish is formulated without parabens, phthalates, triclosan, or any of the twenty other toxic ingredients banned on BLK+GREEN’s Toxic Twenty List. All the colors are pastel and earthy. This shimmery color went on smooth and thinly, and wow, did it stay perfect for a shockingly long time!
Conclusion: Definitely worth purchasing.
Sienna Byron Bay promises to be free of formaldehyde or formaldehyde resin, toluene, DBP, synthetic camphor, xylene and tosylamide, plus their nail polish brushes are BPA-free. This pretty red polish went on smoothly and I love the way it looked. It made it pretty far before chipping. In fact, I don’t think this end result photo is entirely accurate, because I worried at my nails a bit that week while I was working on a story. I also like the packaging with the little wooden top and minimalist font.
Conclusion: I like it!
This feminine-branded nail polish comes in a huge array of colors, all in a subtle shimmer. It’s 7-free and vegan, with no formaldehyde or formaldehyde resin, DBP, toluene, camphor, xylene, or TPHP. It went on smoothly and beautifully. While one nail did chip just a day in, it actually held up for the rest of the week better than that false start would indicate.
Conclusion: If you like shimmer, this is the one for you!
Habit is a natural strengthening nail polish made with Myrrh Extract. It’s PETA-certified as vegan and cruelty-free, gluten-free, free of Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, TPP, Xylene, Phthalates, Parabens and Fragrances, and is made in the U.S.A. It goes on smoothly, and after a week of wear chips some.
Conclusion: Not bad, but not the best on the market.
Sundays, which also has two salons in New York City, says its polishes are 10-free. That includes phthalate, toluene, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, camphor, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, parabens, and tert-butyl hydroperoxide. The 10th ingredient they don’t use is anything derived from animals, so yes, it’s vegan, too! I was very, very impressed with how beautifully it goes on and stays on. Plus, there is a whole range of classy colors to choose from.
Conclusion: Definitely a favorite!
This luxe looking nail polish claims to be vegan and 5-free. And after wearing it for two whole weeks, I was actually skeptical of this claim. How could a non-toxic nail polish last this long? I immediately bought several more colors.
Conclusion: Definitely a favorite.
This nail polish comes in modern, minimalist packaging in every color a modern woman could want, from bright, summery colors, to classy neutrals, and mermaid glitter. It’s an 8-free polish, without formaldehyde, toluene, DBT, camphor, parabens, triphenol phosphate, sulfates, gluten, or animal products. I had it put on at my favorite salon, and it went on smoothly with just the right thickness. I actually think the above photo is misleading, because I took it after a week of wear and two hours of scrubbing my bathroom!
Conclusion: Definitely recommend it.
Zoya is the brand of nail polish you’ll find most often in professional, non-toxic nail salons like Sweet Lily Nail Spa and Deva Spa. It’s been awarded as the longest wearing natural nail polish by an independent panel in Women’s Health Magazine, and is free of toluene, formaldehyde, DBP (phthalates) and camphor. There are over 300 gorgeous nail polish colors to choose from, so good luck choosing a favorite. It went in shiny, smooth and at medium thickness. It held up fine over the next week, though some other options do a little better.
Conclusion: A good choice if you’re at the nail salon, and worth the money.
This non-toxic nail polish put the “water” in water-based. The golden color looked washed out after I got a few coats on my nails, and within days it was peeling. Plus, let me get real with you, I bite my nails. And I need an actual barrier between my teeth and nails to dissuade me. I ripped my nails to shreds while wearing this.
Conclusion: This gives non-toxic beauty products a bad name.
Keeki nail polish is as cutesy and natural as they get, with young colors and only five ingredients, one of them being water. Unfortunately, it reminded me of the Barbie “nail polish” I had when I was six. Barbie nail polish was fun, because you would paint it on, wait a couple minutes for it to dry, and then peel it right back off.
Conclusion: Skip it.
Kure Bazaar nail polish arrives from Paris in a conventional bottle. The brand has many ladylike colors to choose from, and went on nicely. Malheureusement, it started chipping by week’s end.
Conclusion: Not a disaster, but not worth sending for, either. Quelle domage.
Another darling of the toxin-free set, Priti is the most well-recognized non-toxic and cruelty-free nail polish brand. The only questionable ingredient is butyl acetate. It chips just a bit after a week.
Conclusion: Not the best, not the worst.
SpaRitual sent over a bevy of pastel spring colors to try.* The lacquers are vegan and free of DBP, toluene, camphor, formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin. I tried both the lavender and white colors, and found that it was definitely the thickest nail polish I’ve tried. They tend to go on sloppy, and even though I parked myself on the couch for an hour to wait for them to try, I still managed to mess up a nail. A week later, it had started chipping.
Conclusion: Not for me.
Bonus: My Favorite Non-Toxic Nail Polish Removers
Karma Naturals is an industry favorite. Despite it’s less-than-chic packaging, you’ll find it in natural beauty stores everywhere. The lavender scent is my favorite! It’s soy-based, non-toxic, free of any petroleum ingredients, and packaged in a 100% recyclable glass bottle.
Surya Brasil is a newer product, but it works just as well, and has a luscious tropical scent. It’s organic, vegan, and crueltyfree. Its Patauá, Argan and Buriti organic vegetable oils provide hydration, to prevent dryness and white spots on the nails and cuticles. It does not contain Acetone, BHT, Formol, Glycols, Mineral Oil, Parabens, Liquid Paraffin, Silicone, or Toluene.
I recommend both!
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*They sent me free nail polishes to try.