Here's What Nail Polish Is Doing To Our Bodies (And Why You Should Care)

If someone wanted to apply toxic chemicals to your fingers - the things you use to touch your face, caress your loved one's cheeks, and deliver some foods to your mouth - what would you say?

By Mandie Brice2 min read

You may be surprised to find that you have given an enthusiastic “yes” and/or even paid someone to do exactly that! While the beauty industry at large has recently been under fire for its ingredients, one of the worst offenders could very well be...nail polish.

To avoid some of the most dangerous ingredients, look for polishes that boast being “8-free,” or even better, “10-free.” While we wish that this meant that you get 8-10 free polishes, we’re happy to settle for the explanation that they are free of eight or 10 of the scariest chemicals found in most traditional nail polishes!

To avoid some of the most dangerous ingredients, look for polishes that boast being “8-free,” or even better, “10-free.”

What Are Those Terrifying Toxins?

  1. The first is formaldehyde (and formaldehyde resin), which is used to preserve things (like cadavers) and is carcinogenic. It's often mentioned in the dangers of smoking, as it's added to many cigarettes. If you don’t want it in your lungs, it probably isn’t great on your fingertips, either!

  2. The second is camphor, which can cause your heart to beat fast, sweating, slowed breathing, and flushed skin - almost like alcohol or exercising, but without the fun benefits. And that’s just in small doses! In larger doses, it can be toxic.

  3. A third ingredient to avoid are parabens, which are preservatives that can interfere with your hormone production and function (known as an endocrine disruptor).

  4. Toluene is another one that can cause irritation to our eyes, noses, and throats, and is often found in lots of paints, varnishes, and glue - and of course, a variety of nail polishes!

  5. Dibutyl Phthalate or DPB is another ingredient to look for - really any sort of phthalate should be avoided. They are also endocrine disruptors. Phthalates can impact fertility, can cause birth and developmental defects in unborn babies, and can cause liver and kidney failure in children. No thank you!

  6. Xylene is harmful if inhaled, ingested, and sometimes simply with contact to skin, and yet it has been an ingredient in many nail polishes for years! If you can, avoid it!

If you’re counting, that’s six. If you’re wondering where “10-free” comes from, there are a variety of levels, with 10 being the “cleanest.” The other things missing from “10-free polish” are fragrances, any other parabens, and any animal ingredients!

Here Are Some of My Favorite Non-Toxic Polishes!

One “regular” brand that is making great choices is Orly, which you may be familiar with for their traditional polishes! I recommend checking out their “Breathable Treatment and Color,” especially in the color "Just Breathe," which not just 10-free, but 13-free!

Screen Shot 2019-04-15 at 2.13.51 PM

Acquarella is another wonderful non-toxic brand, and as an added benefit, it’s virtually odorless! Check out the color Lumen to stay on top of the yellow trend!

Acquarella Lumen

Cote has a salon in LA and a salon in NYC, has non-toxic formulas, is women-owned, and even has a recycling program where you get 10% off your next bottle of polish if you bring in an empty one! Check out #10, which is a sheer pink!

evie - 10-free -

I shared Elvis from Nail & Bone, which is an 8-free formula that’s glittery and donates to charity, in my article about nail colors you want to wear all spring. This one falls into two categories, because the color’s hot and it's safe to wear! Another in that category from the same article that is 10-free, black women-owned, and supports charities is Hangry by Taupe Coat!

A couple polishes you may remember from my article on the best nude polishes is the Yummy Mummy color from Butter London (which is 3-free or 7-free, depending on the shade), and Doe my Dear from Smith and Cult (which is 8-free).

Closing Thoughts

I'm so pleased that so many brands are becoming more conscious as consumers care more and more about not just what goes IN our bodies, but what goes ON them, too! If you ever want to learn more about any beauty products in terms of their safety, check out the Think Dirty app, which you can use to scan household and beauty products for information and ratings on their ingredients and how safe they are!