All it takes is a person with the slightest sense of smell (and a little common sense) to know that nail polish is jam-packed with chemicals. Of course, not all chemicals are created equally. Some are relatively safe; others, not so much. Non-toxic nail polish is decidedly free of the most harmful additives that can be found in traditional nail polishes, but they don’t sacrifice things like color, shine, or longevity. Before we get to the best non-toxic nail polish, though, let’s define what that term actually means.
There are no FDA regulations on “toxic” or “non-toxic” cosmetics labeling, so brands have taken it upon themselves to rid their products of certain biologically and/or environmentally harmful ingredients — and to label them accordingly. In the nail polish world, the non-toxic movement began in earnest in the early 2000s, when major nail polish brands eliminated three toxins from their formulas: formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBT). Polishes free of these toxic additives — which, by now, is virtually every nail polish available to consumers — are marketed as “three-free.” But as research and formula development has evolved, so too has that list of no-go chemicals. Now, you’ll find nail polishes labelled all the way up to 16-free.
To learn more, I spoke with Mary Lennon, co-founder of non-toxic nail polish brand côte, who broke down the nine major toxins and allergens found in most traditional nail polishes. They’re all missing from côte polishes, and many of these additives (or some, in certain cases) are excluded from the non-toxic nail polishes listed ahead.
Dibutyl phthalate (DBT): Phthalates, like DBP, were used as plasticizers and solvents in some polishes. According to Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, phthalates are endocrine disruptors and may be “linked to breast cancer, developmental issues, decreased fertility, obesity and asthma.”
Lennon also adds gluten to her brand’s no-go list, as it can pose serious health issues for people who are gluten intolerant.
It’s important to note that non-toxic nail polishes are not free of any and all chemicals. As a consumer, it’s up to you to decide which chemicals you’re okay with, and which you’re not. But with that in mind, all of the best non-toxic nail polishes, ahead, are free of at least seven of the most harmful toxins out there. They also happen to be some of the best nail polishes out there, period.
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