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How to Avoid Toxic Nail Polish and Find Eco-Friendly Nail Polish Brands

How to Avoid Toxic Nail Polish and Find Eco-Friendly Nail Polish Brands

It’s no surprise nail polish doesn’t fit into the category of natural products. In fact, reading the ingredients on a bottle of polish is downright scary! But my little girl loves nail polish, so I wanted to make sure she could paint her nails in the safest, most eco-friendly way possible.

Here’s how to avoid toxic nail polish and find eco-friendly nail polish brands instead…

The Toxic Trio

In 2006, public health advocates brought attention to the  “toxic trio” of chemicals found in many popular nail polish brands. Inhaling these three chemicals could lead to developmental defects and cause damage to your nervous system and the environment over time. 


1. Dibutyl phthalate — Used as a solvent for dyes and as a plasticizer to prevent nail polishes from becoming brittle, this phthalate is classified by the EU as a suspected endocrine disruptor and as toxic to reproduction. DBP is associated with liver and kidney failure in young children when products (and polished little fingers) containing phthalates are sucked or chewed for extended periods. Although the U.S. has banned many phthalates (including DBP) in soft vinyl children’s toys, its use in cosmetics is not restricted. The European Union classifies DBP as very toxic to aquatic organisms.

2. Formaldehyde — Formaldehyde is a common ingredient in nail hardeners in concentrations of up to five per cent. In nail polish, tosylamide/formaldehyde resin is used, and may contain residual formaldehyde concentrations of up to 0.5 per cent. The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the EPA classify formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen.

3. Toluene — Toluene is a moderate skin irritant that can cause dermatitis with prolonged contact. It is also a developmental toxicity hazard and has been identified in human milk. Inhalation of toluene vapor can affect the central nervous system causing slight drowsiness and headache at low levels and irritation of the nose, throat and respiratory tract at increased levels.

Exposure to these toxins is a considerable health threat to salon professionals and to children. So following the initial uproar, many brands removed these three toxins from their products, and labeled their polishes as “three-free products.

The European Union has banned the use of these chemicals in cosmetics for years now, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet taken any regulatory action.

Despite this, a 2012 report by California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control revealed that only five out of seven products claimed to be three-free actually were indeed free of the three toxins. Although the report noted that the department only tested 25 products on the market today, it is clear that not all manufacturers list ingredients truthfully on labels.

While there is no regulatory system in place yet, there are nail polishes that are free of the three major toxins, and that are also eco-friendly. A number of manufacturers even went the extra step and specifically exclude formaldehyde resin and camphor from their polishes, in addition to the toxic trio.

Here’s a rundown of a few of these non-toxic nail polishes:

Eco-Friendly Nail Polish Brands

  • Scotch Naturals – These water-based polishes are non-toxic, low odor, and come in great, classy shades for grown ups and kids alike.
  • Honeybee Gardens – This is another water-based polish that lacks the nasty smell you expect from solvent-based polish. You don’t even need to buy a polish remover for these colors: you can use rubbing alcohol or vodka to remove them.
  • SpaRitual – If you’re looking for a cruelty- and toxic-free product, SpaRitual offers vegan polishes. 
  • Piggy Paint – Piggy Paints were created by a mother concerned about the harsh chemicals found in the polishes her daughters wanted to wear. This brand is toxic-free, water-based, hypoallergenic, and comes in kid-friendly colors.
  • Hopscotch Kids – This is another non-toxic, water-based, vegan brand with bright, fun colors catering to kids.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog, including links. These small earnings make it possible for me to continue writing this blog for you. That said, I only recommend products I genuinely love, and that I believe would be of value to my readers.
Thank you for your support!

MEDICAL DISCLOSURE: Your health is between you and your health care practitioner. Nothing in this blog is intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations is at the choice and risk of the reader.


  1. This is good to know. I spend a few months in Hungary each year and sometimes buy German nail polish while there. I am glad to know it should be free of these toxins. Next time I will stock up.

  2. I’m surprised you didn’t mention on here, a professional brand- they are 5-free! I just checked the report that tested the 3-free claim & they passed that as well. I think they are wonderful, so many colors- just you have to order from online (always running specials) -some salons/Ulta carry them. Also it’s nice- you can order a “spoon” for $.50 to see what the color is like in person, then you get that credit back towards your pruchase. I switched to them a couple years ago when I learned about all the chemicals in the cheapie nail polish I had been using. Hope this helps someone else ^_^

    • Zoya doesn’t seem to be water-based, which makes it less eco-friendly and non-toxic than the brands I mentioned, but it is a good alternative for adults who don’t mind that the polish isn’t water-based. Thanks for sharing!

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