12 Healthy and Non-Toxic Nail Polish Brands to Shop Now
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You've probably seen the term "5-free" on some of your nail polish bottles, and that's a good thing. It means that it's free of the five known carcinogens (formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde resin and camphor) that are typically found in lacquers. To help us better understand what constitutes a “healthy nail polish” and why it could be essential for your next manicure, we spoke to a nail pro.
Meet the Expert:
- Tina Wang is a manicurist and owner of Lunula Salon in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
What’s So Harmful About Regular Nail Polish?
First off, it’s important to note that not all regular polishes are harmful. “It depends on the brand, but some regular polishes have chemicals in them that can get into your bloodstream through contact with your skin or your respiratory system,” explains Wang. “Side effects from this exposure can range between experiencing skin irritations or mild headaches to damaging internal organs over time. Some of these chemicals can also cause damage to the environment.”
What Are Common Toxic Ingredients Found In Nail Polish?
Known as the “toxic trio,” the most common toxic ingredients that were often found in older nail polish formulas are formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). Here’s a closer look at each of these ingredients:
- Formaldehyde: This is the most common ingredient used in household products, hair smoothing treatments and nail hardeners. According to the American Cancer Society, studies have shown exposure to formaldehyde caused cancer in lab animals. Humans who work in the medical field and in nail and hair salons are more likely exposed to high levels of formaldehyde, which has been linked to different types of nasal cancers.
- Toluene: This solvent has a potent scent and high exposure to it can affect the nervous system, increase skin irritation and cause mild dizziness. As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes, nail technicians are more likely to face these side effects, as it’s often used in lacquers, cleaners and adhesives.
- Dibutyl Phthalate: This ingredient is often used to hold color and prevent chipping. However, studies show the plasticizer can cause reproductive issues in animals and women (which is why it was banned for use in cosmetics by the European Union in 2004).
How to Choose a Non-Toxic Nail Polish
While many brands label their polishes as “clean” or “natural,” it’s better to look at the “number-free” label instead. Although the term isn’t 100 percent regulated by the FDA, it can offer some peace of mind and a better understanding of how many toxic ingredients aren’t included in the polish.
Luckily, many brands have eliminated these ingredients and more from their formulas while finding ways to maintain the quality and wear of their conventional counterparts. Ready to paint? Here are 12 of our favorite healthy and non-toxic nail polish brands.
Healthy and Non-Toxic Nail Polishes At a Glance
- Why We Like It: 64 shades, AAPI-owned, has three salon locations in NY
- Made Without: dibutyl phthalate, toluene, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, camphor, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, parabens, tert-butyl hydroperoxid, TPHP
- Best-Selling Shades: L.01 ($18), No.25 ($18), No.13 ($18)
This socially-responsible polish brand goes above and beyond being "5-free"—it's free of ten known toxins and is cruelty-free and vegan. All 64 shades deliver intense pigment and a vibrant shine. Customers also rave about its creamy application.
Best for Strengthening Nails
- Why We Like It: 136 shades, woman-owned, expert-approved
- Made Without: formaldehyde, toluene, phthalates (including DBP), formaldehyde resin, camphor, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, TPHP, bisphenol A
- Best-Selling Shades: Invisible Crown ($16), Fortifying Ridge Filler ($16), Bell Flower ($16)
When you want a polish that wears well and strengthens your nails, this brand comes through. It's free of nine common toxins and is infused with nourishing botanicals like evening primrose and grapeseed flower oils, chamomile and vitamins A, E and B7. Instant color payoff with long-term benefits? Sign us up.
Most Extensive Shade Range
- Why We Like It: 692 shades, includes eight different polish finishes, cruelty-free
- Made Without: formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, camphor, TPHP, parabens, xylene, ethyl tosylamide and lead
- Best-Selling Shades: Edyta ($12), Saint ($12), Allison ($16)
With a new range of colors released every season, there are endless 5-free options (over 300 and counting) to choose from. And here you thought it'd be hard to find a clean version of obscure shades like the above gold-flecked olive green.
- Why We Like It: 44 shades, budget-friendly, a staple brand for over 50 years
- Made Without: formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, xylene, acetone, phthalates (including DBP), camphor, parabens, ethyl tosylamide, triphenyl phosphate (TPP), animal-derived ingredients, styrene, bisphenol A, glycol ether of series E (glycol ethers derived from ethylene oxide), nonylphenol ethoxylate, sulfates
- Best-Selling Shades: Beet It (
$10; $8), Cherry Amore ($10), Coral Calm ($10)
5-free? Try 16-free. This is the drugstore brand's first plant-based and 100 percent vegan polish line. And since we’re talking about healthier options here, it’s important to note that all of the formulas are infused with sustainable bamboo and marine algae that aims to protect and strengthen nails. It’s cruelty-free and comes with a plant-based brush as well.
- Why We Like It: 39 shades, eco-friendly packaging, has one salon location in NY
- Made Without: toluene, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, triphenyl phosphate, ethyl tosylamide, or xylene
- Best-Selling Shades: Coney Island ($12), Eldrige ($12), Canal ($12)
A fashion industry favorite, this 8-free line of lacquers offers everything you’d ever want in a nail polish: timeless and trendy shades, a smooth and easy application and a long-wearing, shiny finish.
- Why We Like It: 166 shades and counting, woman-owned
- Made Without: formaldehyde, toulene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), acetone, animal-derived ingredients, bisphenol-A, nonylphenol ethoxylate, parabens, sulfate
- Best-Selling Shades: Prairie ($8), Prom ($8), Southwest ($8)
Since the brand first launched its polishes in 2019, it's quickly become a favorite for many nail obsessives (including our editors). The 7-free line features plenty of seasonal and perennial shades that are known for their lasting power and pigmentation.
Most Hydrating Formula
- Why We Like It: 217 shades, classic brand, can create your own custom color
- Made Without: toluene, formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide
- Best-Selling Shades: Sunkissed ($11), All Dahlia'd Up ($11), She's A Wildflower ($11)
While nails don’t necessarily need to "breathe" to stay healthy, Orly does make permeable polishes that allow oxygen through to keep your tips hydrated for good measure. And if that doesn't convince you, there's also vitamin B5 and argan oil in the formula to help seal the deal.
The 17-Free Pick
Ella + Mila
- Why We Like It: 214 shades,17-free, vegan
- Made Without: acetone, bisphenol-A, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, gluten, glycol ether of series E, nonylphenol ethoxylate, parabens, phthalates (including DBP), styrene, sulfate, toluene, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP/TPP), xylene, animal-derived ingredients
- Best-Selling Shades: Berry Much in Love ($11), Honeymoon Bliss ($11), Champagne Pop ($11)
While some brands are “3-free” or “5-free,” Ella + Mila takes things up a notch by being “17-free.” This eco-friendly polish is free from the known offenders (formaldehyde, toluene and acetone), as well as other potentially irritating ingredients you might not have thought about (i.e., sulfates and gluten). Since 2014, the brand has offered over 200 shades that are chip-resistant fast drying, making them ideal for any at-home mani.
- Why We Like It: 10 shades, Black-owned, featured in Oprah’s Favorite Things in 2021
- Made Without: formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, triphenyl phosphate, tert-butyl hydroperoxide or parabens
- Best-Selling Shades: #NYFW ($21), Worthy ($21), Undaunted ($21)
Founder Kitiya Mischo King had a hard time finding non-toxic nail polishes she liked while pregnant with her son, so she decided to create her own. In 2013, Mischo Beauty launched with a line of 10-free lacquers that delivered on pigment, application and longevity. Since then, it’s amassed many awards, being featured in Allure and Cosmopolitan, and even making Oprah’s Favorite Things list in 2021.
The Luxury Brand
- Why We Like It: 65 shades, Black-owned, features both classic and gel polish
- Made Without: toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, DBP, xylene, parabens, fragrances, phthalates, animal ingredients
- Best-Selling Shades: Dianna Boss ($14), One Piece Wonder ($14), Ginzaholic ($14)
Pear Nova has one goal: to make healthy and luxury nail products. From polishes to nail care essentials like top coat, soy remover and hydrating hand cream, the vegan brand encourages consumers to “indulge in elegance” sans any of the toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and DBP.
- Why We Like It: 125 shades, woman-owned, contains a recycle program
- Made Without: formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, camphor, formaldehyde resin, TPHP, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, parabens, gluten
- Best-Selling Shades: No. 10 ($18), No. 6 ($18), No.13 ($18)
If you’re looking for a healthy polish brand with a chic shade selection, look no further than Côte. Their 10-free polishes come in an expansive range of timeless and trendy colors, but it’s the brand’s recycling program that makes it a cut above the rest. Once you’ve used your bottle, you can send it back to be recycled and get ten percent off your next purchase.
- Why We Like It: 82 shades, AAPI-owned, offers UV protection
- Made Without: formaldehyde, toluene, animal derivative, benzene, DBP, phthalates, cyclic silicones, formaldehyde resin, camphor, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, triphenyl phosphate, parabens, hydroquinone, bismuth oxychloride, synthetic fragrances, tert-butyl hydroperoxide, 4-methoxyphenol, methyl ethyl ketone, chromium oxide greens, lead
- Best-Selling Shades: Earth Clay ($18), Sea Clay ($18), Green Clay ($18)
Yeah, you’ve seen the 3-free and 10-free labels, folks, but JINSoon’s 21-free label tops the list. All 80+ shades in the line are formulated without 21 known offenders—from formaldehyde to lead. Instead, each polish is made with high-tech polymers to improve shine, wear and application. Plus, it offers UV protection, so you manicure won’t prematurely fade or yellow.
Are There Any Downsides to Non-Toxic Nail Polish?
As Wang explains, some non-toxic polishes may take more time to dry than regular polish, so take that into account. And since these formulas don’t have dibutyl phthalate, they might be prone to lifting or chipping. Lastly, non-toxic lacquers can be more expensive than a traditional polish, but they often offer additional benefits (i.e., chip-fee, vibrant shade, longer wear).
Do Non-Toxic Nail Polish Expire?
“There isn’t an expiration date, per se, but for best results, you should use your non-toxic polishes between 12-24 months after opening them,” says Wang. Also, it’s best to keep them out of direct sunlight and away from moisture. Your polish should be kept in a cool, dark place (so maybe not underneath your bathroom sink or in your medicine cabinet).
How Long Do Non-Toxic Nail Polishes Last On Your Nails?
It varies, but Wang notes most brands will last between one to two weeks if you’re taking the proper care to apply them. (Prep is everything, y’all.) It will also depend on different lifestyle factors like the amount of water exposure your hands get daily and the types of activities you engage in (i.e., gardening, cleaning, opening boxes, etc.)