non-toxic nail polish | AN


29 august 2018

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Are you aware of what goes into a bottle of nail polishes? Some might not necessarily care,  however I am guessing that as you are reading this article, you are some what curious.  A variety of controversial ingredients are used to create nail polish, pressure groups have been trying to raise more awareness of this due to the effects that these ingredients can have on your body and the environment when regularly used.  

Some argue that small doses of these ingredients are harmless and that fingernails and toenails are made of keratin, which is hard and largely impenetrable and the ingredients in the polish are not released into the air[i]. However some disagree with argument and also you may be like me and want to reduce the amount of synthetic or natural but harmful ingredients that you include in your daily or weekly beauty routines. 

Fortunately there are many brands that cater to those looking for non-toxic nail polish. The Effortlist has collated a wee list to help you be introduced (or expand on) your choice of non toxic nail polishes.

Whilst there are a variety of ingredients that non-toxic nail polishes brands omit from their nail polishes (some brands have 8 free or more as you will see below), this article will focus on the main the main five, including the scarily named Toxic Trio (Formaldehyde, Toulene and Dibutyl Phthalates). 

It’s important to note that generally, the sources I have read agree that all health risks lie more heavily with nail technicians, as they inhale a range of chemicals used in nail products for hours a day. These exposures can “add up,” especially when many products are being used at the same time, the products are used day after day, or when there is poor ventilation in the salon [ii]

Want to know more about the controversial ingredients? Then keep scrolling,  However,  if you’d rather just skip to the list of nail polishes then click here. Enjoy

Formaldehyde/ Formaldehyde Resin

There is a lot of literature that claims formaldehyde is included in nail polish. It is listed as one of the toxic ingredients in the scarily named “toxic trio. When you scratch a bit below the surface, you will find the literature that explains that it is not pure formaldehyde that is included in nail polish, its methelyn glycol which is water and formaldehyde gas mixed together. This is also sometimes called formalin.

Some argue regulations only allow for a small percentage of methelyne glycol to be used in nail polish, therefore the levels of actual formaldehyde gas in nail polish is too low to cause any adverse effects, infact they claim its the same level as you would find naturally in foods (iii) . Additionally, studies have concluded that methleyn glycol is not formaldehyde’s chemical equivalent (iv) hence it wont produce the same effects as if you were exposed to pure formaldehyde gas.

However,  Michelle (who has a PHD in Chemistry by the way!) of science beauty blog Lab Muffin argues that whilst methelyne gycol is the product of mixing of water and gas ” the reaction is reversible – the formaldehyde can react with water to form methylene glycol, but the methylene glycol can also break down to formaldehyde and water again.” [v}.

I am left with questions such as what are the effects of regular application of this chemical? 

It is widely accepted that formaldehyde is an irritant and allergin so you might want to avoid this if you have skin sensitivity or a known allergy. It might not actually be all that great for your nails. Its often found in nail hardener treatments as the  formaldehyde bonds with the keratin that occurs naturally in the nails, making the nails harder. [vi] However, studies show that regular use of this “may make nails brittle and more likely to break or peel”[vii] Formalin cross links proteins in the the  nail resulting in increase in surface hardness and decreased flexibility, which the user  misinterprets as improved strength and durability.  After months of continued use, nail hardeners may eventually increase nail plate hardness and ridgity to the point that brittleness becomes obvious. [viii]

Dibutyl Phthalate

 Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) helps increase the durability of nail polish leaving you with a chip free finish, however it is also a known reproductive and developmental toxin” [ix]

DBP is often used to make plastics softer and more flexible, and small amounts are used in nail polish and polish hardener.” [x] Fortunately this  chemical is actually no longer legal for use in cosmetics in Europe. it was banned in the UK in 2015. They used to actually use it in children’s toys as well till the 2005 ban [xi] however is still used in some nail polish the United States.


“Toluene is a BTEX compound commonly found in varnishes, glues, gasoline, and nail polishes, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). This petrochemical and neurotoxicant causes nausea, dizziness and irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs. Toluene inhalation during pregnancy has also been linked to birth and developmental defects.” [xii]

“Toluene enters the environment when you use materials that contain it, such as paints, paint thinners, adhesives, fingernail polish, and gasoline; it evaporates rapidly from these materials and becomes mixed with the air you breathe.” [xiii]


Camphor that is used in nail polishes is derived from synthetic sources. Unlike its natural tree derived counterpart, synthetic Camphor is used in nail polish and various sources claim it is a toxic chemical. 

5 Free

No Toulene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, DPT, Camphor

Wide Eye

Wide Eye has an ok sized collection of nail polishes, the colour range is decent. The colour flamingo did appear to be a richer, more vibrant shade on their website photo, but it's still an ok shade. Wide Eye have quite a few quirky and cool colours in their range such as Sunset Beach which is a bold, primary yellow as well as Hocus-Pocus lightening, which is a concrete grey. The price point for these polishes is great as they start at £8.95 for 11ml
*Nail polish shade - Flamingo Pink


UK cosmetic brand Log cosmetics have a small range of 5 free vegan polishes. The line is mainly comprised of bold, rich shimmer shades with cool Nigerian inspired names such as Sassy Wahala and Shakara.

I tried To Have and To Hold, its a very pretty, rich colour with decent durability The polishes cost £6.00 for 10ml
*Nail polish shade - To Have and To Hold


German brand Benecos naturals offer 5 free nail polishes and polish formulated with 97% natural ingredients. Small colour range of 16 shades in total, offering mainly classic shades of nail polish. Found that this polish took a tad bit longer to dry in comparison to other shades I tried. Prices start from £6.95 for 9ml
Nail polish shade - Sharp Rose & Hot Summer


Pretty shades, pretty packaging and high fashion inspired. MYNX splits into two collections and have a mixture of 5 and 10 free polishes. The brand is vegan and PETA certified. £12 for 10ml

*Deep Dark Secrets & Kandid Galaxy


Vegan and cruelty free brand with a vintage feel. Fairypants has a wide range of products including these fun, 5 free polishes starting from £3.99 a pop. This indie brand have a wide range of colours and nail care items to choose from. All come in fun, retro style packaging. £3.99 for 10ml
•Shade - Bleu


French named brand with a huge colour range. From brights to nudes. Generally polishes are cream based but there is such a choice that you are bound to find a shade for you. Polishes contain up to 85% natural ingredients. £11.00 for 10ml.

*Persimmon & Bleu de Gex


Free nail polishes from indie, UK based brand Prism Nail Polish. Offers a fun range of core line creams and an additional selection of textures, for example holographic, iridescent and shimmering finishes. included classic and quirky colors. Prices start from £4,50 for 6 ml or 10ml starting from £5.00 depending on the range you are purchasing from
Heathfied Mist is pretty violet shade, with a glossy finish. Without You I'm Nothing is a BEAUTIFUL glitter shade, gold with lilac tones. Stunning when the light catches it.
*The brand has advised that the above shades were part of a seasonal range and are therefore no longer available. Calluna and These Go to 11 are very similar shades in their current collection. •Shade - Heathfield Mist & Without You I'm Nothing


No Toulene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, DPT, Xylene, Camphor, THTP


French brand Avril create nail polishes free from parabens, phthalates (dibutyl phthalate), toluene, xylene, camphor, formaldehyde, rosin. This is the most affordable brand on our list with polishes starting at £3. 7ml Not Free from THTP

*Bleu Layette


Gel effect polish with a smooth and opaque finish. I think you could get away with one coat. Maggie Ann boasts up to 7 days of colour., mine only lasted 2, but I don't think I gave this a fair go as I was washing up without gloves etc. This polish is super easy to apply and to remove, the brush helps achieve a smooth finish. Maggie Ann has a good range of colours and is free from THTP

•Shade - Jasper


Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, Xylene, Ethyl Tosylamide, Triphenyl Phosphate.


The glamorous 8 free polishes come in beautiful, luxury, weighty packaging which will look fabulous on any vanity.
Smith and cult have a variety of shades. £19.00 for 14ml

*Darjeling Darling

9/10 FREE

Formaldehyde, Toluene, DBP, Formaldehyde resin, Camphor, Xylene, Ethyl Tosylamide, Triphenyl phosphate, Parabens, Lead


Nailberry have 4, 5 and 12 free nail polishes, however we are going to focus on their L'Oygene range which is 12 free.
My pick was the shade Stardust, a gorgeous glitter shade. It's fast drying and when the light hits it, it is so pretty, its like fairy dust! The iridescent aspect of this polish really comes to light.


Editorial fashion inspired shades. Jin Soon have 9 free polishes and a smaller 10 free colour range. Prices start at £15.00 11ml

•Shade - Hope
Infographic of non-toxic nail polish terms



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Original publish date: 29.08.2018
Revision date: 07.07.2019
Revision date (2): 08/09/2019