Whether you’re young, old, or somewhere in between, nail polish is a fun way to pamper yourself and make a style statement. The trouble is, most conventional nail polish contains a plethora of toxic chemicals that can harm your health and the environment. Can we really not have any nice things? Yes, we can! Some companies have smartened up and removed the worst offending chemicals and microplastics from their formulas (look for 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 for 2021. We’ve got you covered for the best eco-friendly, non-toxic glitter nail polish options too!
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.
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 Licks polish seem 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.
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 natual beauty. It’s not perfect, but it is close and there are some fun colors to choose from.
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.
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.
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 are 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.
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 a 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:
- Kure Bazaar nail polish 2/5 leaves
- Gabriel Cosmetics nail polish 2/5 leaves
- Beauty Without Cruelty 2/5 leaves
- Sundays nail polish 2/5 leaves
- Zimah Collection nail polish 2/5 leaves
- Aila nail polish 2/5 leaves
- Tenoverten nail polish 2/5 leaves
- LVX nail polish 1/5 leaves
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.