The Truth about Non-Toxic Nail Polish, Plus the Best Alternative for Put-Together Nails

March 25, 2022 0 Comments

Scanning the ingredients list of things you plan to put into your body might be second nature at the grocery store. You might even peruse the labels on skincare products before you click “add to cart.”

But what about the products you’re using for your nails? Does your favorite coral polish or that oh-so-stylish gel nail design come with hidden health risks? And if so, how serious are we talking?

In an effort to better understand the potential risks of nail polish, and whether formulas that are marketed as “X-free” are really any better, we looked at the latest research and spoke with industry experts.

Whether you decide the pay-off is worth the risk, starting from a place of knowledge is always a good idea. Read on for the truth about non-toxic nail polish, plus the very best alternative for put-together nails.

The landscape of nail polish can be challenging to navigate at best.

Let’s be clear that “nail polish is essentially paint,” says Suzanne Shade, the founder of Bare Hands, a polish-free method of natural nail care.

“If you think of it in terms of household waste, all paints (liquid or dried) are classified as toxic substances and cannot be safely put in public landfills — regardless of being labeled ‘non-toxic,’” Shade continues.

And for the record, while many nail polish manufacturers tend to keep their formulas top secret, the ingredients in just about every bottle of polish can be broadly categorized into:

  • solvents
  • resins
  • plasticizers
  • film-forming agents
  • coloring agents

Then there are the issues of labeling and marketing claims.

Then there are the issues of labeling and marketing claims.

“Nail polish formulation is tricky, and, sometimes, the packaging or marketing around a formula can be misleading,” says Olivia Van Iderstine, the vice president of content and creative at Olive & June.

Worse, vague references to being “clean,” “non-toxic,” or free of 3, 5, 7, 10, or even 15 worrisome ingredients are largely unregulated. This means nail polish companies are essentially free to say what they want.

Additionally, it’s important to know that neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approves nail polishes before they come to market.

The only exception that requires FDA approval is color additivesTrusted Source. Otherwise, manufacturers can use any ingredient as long as:

  • The product is safe when used as labeled. However, it’s up to manufacturers to determine whether their products are safe. The FDA doesn’t require any particular safety testing.
  • The product is labeled appropriately. This includes having ingredient labels on polishes sold to consumers. However, polishes available in nail salons only aren’t required to have ingredient lists.
  • The ingredients are used appropriately. That means the way the ingredients are used don’t cause the finished product to be “adulterated or misbranded” according to the laws the FDA enforces.

Still, if you have a hard time pronouncing the ingredients on your polish, let alone understanding what they are, you aren’t the only one.

“Even those who take the time to research products and their ingredients may not be able to find what is actually in the bottle they are researching,” explains Autumn Blum, a cosmetic chemist and the formulator and CEO of Stream2Sea, a personal care company committed to eco-friendly products.

That’s because some ingredients, like phthalates, can be hidden under catch-all termsTrusted Source like “fragrance” in the interest of protecting trade secrets.

“Certain ingredients, like ‘fragrance,’ can hide up to 3,000 different chemicals under that label, many of which are questionable for humans and can be lethal for aquatic life,” Blum says.


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