7 Great Sustainable Nail Polish Brands Using Clean Ingredients

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Written by Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

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Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

Sustainability Expert

Leigh Matthews is a sustainability expert and long time vegan. Her work on solar policy has been published in Canada's National Observer.

Updated:

Most conventional nail polish contains a plethora of toxic chemicals that can harm your health and the environment. Luckily, some companies have removed the worst offending chemicals and microplastics from their formulas (look for a polish that says at least 8-free, but better yet 12-free or more!). In addition, better, more eco-friendly brands have brought new types of polish to market in recent years.

Here are my top picks for the best eco-friendly, non-toxic nail polish.

We’ve got you covered for the best eco-friendly, non-toxic glitter nail polish options too!

1

Honeybee Gardens Nail Polish

Leaf Score

Highlights: Made in the USA, this is a vegan-friendly, Feingold and PETA certified Cruelty Free nail polish that is easily removed with rubbing alcohol and much much better than most other nail polishes.

100% Cruelty-Free: Yes

Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Acrylates copolymer. May Contain: Iron Oxides (CI 77490), Mica (CI 77019), Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Ultramarine Blue (CI 77007)

Honeybee Gardens polish is a water-based nail polish that is vegan-friendly, certified cruelty-free by PETA, non-GMO, paraben-free, gluten-free, and free from formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), xylene, camphor, benzophenone-1, and FD&C colors, as well as nitrocellulose resin, animal ingredients, and triphenyl phosphate.

This makes it one of the least toxic nail polishes around and my top pick for Leaf Score. It’s also well rated by the Environmental Working Group, has rave reviews online, and is made in Pennsylvania, USA, although some products may be made in Canada and Germany.

None of the products are tested on animals and all have been reviewed by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, with a score of 2 or lower. The company works with the National Resources Stewardship Council (NRSC) to obtain ethically sourced mica, with most of the mica in Honeybee Gardens products sourced in the US.

Honeybee Gardens was created in 1995 by herbalist Melissa J. Buckley. The company uses entirely natural ingredients and reuses and recycles as much as possible. They use recyclable and recycled products to pad retail orders during transit, including reusing materials from their deliveries and shredding paper and newspaper as fill.

2

Kid Licks Edible Nail Polish

Leaf Score

Highlights: The best option for kid-safe nail polish and one of the least toxic nail polishes around, this polish can be removed with alcohol, soap, and water, and is made in the USA and Cruelty-Free. It’s also microplastic-free, using confectioner’s glaze rather than acrylate polymers!

100% Cruelty-Free: Yes

Ingredients: Alcohol (evaporates when applied), confectioner’s glaze. May contain: titanium dioxide, blue 1 lake, blue 2 lake, red 3, red 40 lake, yellow 5 lake and yellow 6 lake.

Kid Licks are mostly made of alcohol and confectioner’s glaze or shellac (purified lac resin). This means it’s not really cruelty-free and is definitely not vegan-friendly as raw lac resin contains around 25% insect matter.

Aside from that, Kid Lick’s polish seems to use some of the safest FD&C colors in most polishes and are best suited for temporary use (because they will flake and chip) for children. I wouldn’t let kids eat them though.

Unfortunately, Kid Licks don’t seem to have any clear policies on sustainable manufacturing or recycling, so all those leaves are purely based on the product itself. Where you can, it’s best to thoroughly rinse any empty Kid Licks glass bottles and either reuse them for arts and crafts at home or recycle them.

3

Benecos Nail Polish

Leaf Score

Highlights: An 8-free nail polish free from the major nasty chemicals typically found in nail polish, this German-made nail polish received the top (‘Good’) rating from OekoTest Magazine and is vegan and Cruelty-Free.

100% Cruelty-Free: Yes

Ingredients: Ethyl Acetate, Butyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Adipic Acid / Neopentyl Glycol / Trimellitic Anhydride Copolymer, Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Isopropyl Alcohol, Stearalkonium Hectorite, Sucrose Acetate Isobutyrate, and Pentaerythrityl Tetraisostearate. It may also contain Titanium Dioxide, Silica, Mica, Iron Oxides, Red 6, Red 34, Black 2, Barium Sulfate, Ferric Ferrocyanide, Tin Oxide, Yellow 5.

Benecos 8-free nail polish is made without pretty much all the usual nasty chemicals in nail polish and has won or been nominated for a bunch of awards for natural beauty. It’s not perfect, but it is close and there are some fun colors to choose from.

The company predominantly uses natural and organic ingredients, does not test on animals, doesn’t use petrochemicals, GMOs, synthetic dyes or fragrances, silicones, parabens, microbeads, ethoxylated raw materials, nanoparticles, or phthalates. They also take eco-friendliness a bit more seriously than most cosmetics companies as they are actively trying to reduce plastic use. This can be seen through the introduction in 2019 of a new line of make-up pallets that are reusable with fully recyclable infills/refills delivered solely wrapped in paper.

4

Acquarella Nail Polish

Leaf Score

Highlights: Free from the big 10 and many other chemicals of concern, this polish lasts longer than other water-based polishes and has an excellent EWG rating of 1! It’s also made in the US and is vegan and Cruelty-Free.

100% Cruelty-Free: Yes

Ingredients: Aqua (CAS: 7732-18-5), Styrene Acrylates Copolymer, Acrylates Copolymer. May contain: CI 77489 (CAS: 1345-25-1), CI 77492 (CAS: 51274-00-1), Mica (CAS: 12001-26-2), CI 77891 (CAS: 13463-67-7) and/or CI 77499

Acquarella’ water-based nail polish is made simply with water, styrene acrylates copolymer, and acrylates copolymer, with a range of possible colorants and mica. Sure, the styrene isn’t great, but this polish is technically free from any chemicals on the European Union’s list of restricted substances, making it vastly better than most other polish.

As a bonus, you don’t need a base coat or topcoat with this polish, which helps offset the slightly higher price tag.

All of the Acquarella Water Color products are made in Tucson, Arizona, with the company exerting complete control over production from beginning to end. None of the finished products are tested on animals, nor do they contain any animal products or by-products, and they have been approved as such by PETA.

Unfortunately, Acquarella has no clear policy on sustainability, so the onus is on the customer to reuse and recycle product packaging.

5

SOPHi Nail Polish

Leaf Score

Highlights: Vegan and Cruelty-Free, made in the USA, and water-based, this polish is free from all of the most toxic chemicals in nail polish.

100% Cruelty-Free: Yes

Ingredients: Basic formula: Water, Acrylates copolymer, Neem oil; Depending on the shade: Red 7, Red 34, Red 28, Red 17, Iron oxide, Titanium dioxide, Ultramarines, Chrome Green, Mica, Violet 2

SOPHi nail polish is, to all intents and purposes, the adult Piggy Paint and is made by the same company. It is available in some more sophisticated colors (and some fun colors, too – don’t worry), and is non-flammable, free from formaldehyde, toluene, phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), or ethyl acetate. SOPHi also offers an acetone-free Nail Polish Stripper gel that stays in place on the nail for easy removal (View Price on Amazon), or you can just remove this water-based polish with alcohol or vodka.

SOPHi nail polish has won a bunch of awards, including from Pregnancy & Newborn magazine. So, if you’re pregnant and want to paint your nails, this is a good one to go for.

While eco-friendly in the sense that there are no highly troubling chemicals in this polish, the company, like many other beauty brands, does little else to protect the environment. There’s no recycling or reuse policy in place, no solar panels, carbon offsetting, or partnerships with eco-organizations. So, again, the onus is on you as a consumer to rinse and reuse these glass bottles for arts and crafts at home, or recycle where possible.

6

Piggy Paint Nail Polish

Leaf Score

Highlights: Quick-drying and kid-safe, this super affordable polish is mostly odor-free, lasts well, and is easy to remove. It is made in the USA and Cruelty-Free and Piggy Paint also offer a convenient nail polish remover.

100% Cruelty-Free: Yes

Ingredients: Nail polish ingredients: Water, acrylates copolymer, neem oil.  May contain (depending on shade):  ultramarines, iron oxide, titanium dioxide, mica, red 28, red 34, red 22, red 7, yellow 10, violet 2, zinc sulfide/copper, chrome green, orange 5.

Nail polish remover ingredients: Corn alcohol, Aloe Vera extract, Vitamin E, embittering agent.

Piggy Paint is a popular brand for kid-safe nail polish, and for good reason. Their 7-free polish is vegan and cruelty-free and was created by a mom looking for a safe polish for her kid. These water-based polishes contain no: formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), or formaldehyde resin, but aren’t FD&C color-free. If they would switch to mineral colorants only, they’d definitely get an extra leaf. In the meantime, your best bet is to choose colors carefully and avoid those containing violet 2.

Piggy Paint offers a topcoat (View Price on Amazon) and base coat/sealer (View Price on Amazon), plus a nail polish remover that works quickly on all polishes, especially Piggy Paint Nail Polish.

Piggy Paint is the kids’ version of SOPHi polish and, in a fun twist, is also SOPHi’s parent company. This means that like SOPHi, Piggy Paint has no discernible environmental policies or sustainability practices. So, all those leaves are purely for the product, not for the company’s eco-friendly approach to business.

7

Suncoat Nail Polish

Leaf Score

Highlights: Made in Canada, Suncoat is a great nail polish for kids and adults alike. It is virtually odor-free, contains mostly natural ingredients, is non-flammable, Cruelty-Free, and doesn’t dry out or discolor nails.

100% Cruelty-Free: Yes

Ingredients: Main ingredients: Aqua (water, ~65% in formula), acrylate copolymer / styrene-acrylate copolymer (~28% in formula) Other ingredients (all under 4%): propylene glycol n-butyl ether, dipropylene glycol dibenzoate. Pigments/colorant: may contain [+/-] mica (CI 77019), titanium dioxide (CI 77891), ferric ferrocyanide, iron oxide (CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499), chromium oxide (CI 77288), carmine (CI 75470)

Suncoat has been making water-based nail polishes since 2001 and was, once again, founded by a mom looking for safe nail polish for kids. The difference here is that this mom was a scientist! Handy.

The resulting polishes mostly use mineral pigments and natural ingredients, and all Suncoat Girl products are created and manufactured in Guelph, Canada. You won’t find any phthalates, toluene, formaldehyde, acetates, alcohol, glycol ethers, or FD&C dyes. Instead, these contain a plethora of plastics, unfortunately, including acrylic copolymers, polyurethane, and plastic glitter in some polishes. So, far from perfect, but better than most. I’d avoid the glitter polish as I’m suspicious that the PET it contains might still be a source of phthalates.


Other options to consider:

The problem with conventional nail polish

There’s no robust regulation in the US that restricts the use of dubious chemicals in cosmetic and personal care products, meaning nail polish typically contains a whole bevy of nasty chemicals. These can do damage to your nails, cause respiratory irritation, and even harm hormonal health. Find out more about what to watch out for in nail polish.

It’s also a good idea to avoid nail polish that contains acrylate copolymers or other microplastics. These usually end up in wastewater and are persistent pollutants. They can seriously affect the health of fish, birds, frogs, and other wildlife and can also accumulate in human tissue where they continue to cause health issues. The Leaf Score recommended nail polish brands above have gone the extra step to minimize microplastics and other problematic ingredients.

Finally, when it’s time to remove your nail polish, don’t just pick away at it or reach for the acetone and disposable wipes. Consider using the following products instead to make things a bit healthier and more eco-friendly all round:

  • Organyc Organic Cotton Rounds in biodegradable and compostable packaging – View on Amazon
  • Sephora Organic Cotton Rounds with GOTS certification – view on Sephora
  • TL Care’s Nursing Pads made with organic cotton – made for nursing but great for removing make-up and nail polish! – View on Amazon
  • Priveganic organic cotton make-up removal pads come with a convenient washbag to stop them getting bunched up or stuck in a dryer vent – View on Amazon.

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