Safer Nail Polish Guide

By: Cassy Joy

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In this guide, we are sharing why you should consider making the switch to non-toxic nail polish, and giving you all of our favorite non-toxic nail polish brands, including nail polish removers and safer nail polish options for kids!

This article has been a LONG time coming! I really started my research on safer nail polish years ago, when we were first considering starting a family. From there, I've learned a lot about what matters, what doesn't matter, what to prioritize, and some of the pro's and con's of the safer polish brand options out there. We utilized the EWG, our own extensive use of the polishes (manicure research, not a bag gig), and the websites of each individual brand to help formulate our guide!

For those of you curious about more of the geeky skincare science AND for those of you curious about how to navigate salon options (think: gel and dip powders), we have those articles coming next!

Let's dig in…

woman using non-toxic nail polish to paint her nails

How toxic is nail polish?

Truth be told, the contact that nail polish makes with your skin is relatively minor when compared to other skincare and beauty products. If you're at the beginning stages of switching-to-safer and feeling overwhelmed by all of the swaps you could make, I recommend prioritizing products that make the most regular contact with your skin (think: lotion or makeup). If you're looking for a safer beauty swap priority list, here's my suggestion:

  • First: products that you apply regularly and that are designed to sit on or soak into the skin. This includes: body lotion, face lotions, serums, oils, makeup, toners, eye cream, etc. My go-to safer skincare brand here.
  • Second: deodorant. My go-to safer deodorant here.
  • Third: products that you soak in regularly, such as a bubble bath or other kind of spa-like soak. My favorite soak here.
  • Fourth: soaps, including body wash and shampoo/conditioner. My favorite safer body products here and my favorite shampoo / conditioner.
  • Fifth: perfume, if you wear it multiple times a week; bump to the end of the list if you wear infrequently. My favorite safer perfume here.
  • Sixth: hair styling products. My favorite safer styling products here.
  • Seventh: nail polish. Read on for my favorites!

Is nail polish toxic only when it makes contact with the skin?

You may think that your nail serves as a protective barrier against nail polish and that it can only be absorbed when it comes into contact with your skin. However, while your skin is more porous than your actual nail, chemicals CAN pass through either barrier. What does this mean? It means that while the toxins in nail polish will pass through your skin at a greater rate, they can also still pass through your nail. So, if you're still married to your conventional nail polish, be careful to only paint on the nail.

Is nail polish toxic to breathe?

This is a great question! YES, there are a few vaporous toxic ingredients that will waft up while you're painting your nails. Ingredients include toluene, formaldehyde, and camphor. A few of these are relatively benign (think: rubbing alcohol) but others can actually have an impact on brain functionality, respiratory health, and can cause headaches. If you know that you're not going to give up your salon manicure (no judgment!) but you are concerned about breathing in the chemicals, a filtering mask (like this one from Amazon) may be worth stashing in your purse for your weekly trip to the manicurist. If you are doing your own at-home manicure, another option to consider is to paint your nails by an open window!

Is nail polish toxic after it dries?

Unfortunately, it looks like toxins from nail polish do stay in your body long after the polish dries. The chemical TPHP has been found to stay in the body several hours after using polish. The verdict is still out as to whether or not this chemical has any serious long term effects on people, but if you are a regular nail polish user, we have put compiled a list of non- or low-toxic options!

zoya non-toxic nail polish on a marble board in front of a woman painting her nails

Toxic nail polish brands (worth avoiding):

While we're not on a mission to vilify any one brand, the labels that actually pack the biggest toxic load punch are a few of our salon-staple favorites:

OPI

OPI Nail Polish boasts about not having the toxic trio (toluene, formaldehyde, and DPB) but, it has other ingredients that aren't the greatest: camphor, which can cause nausea and dizziness if inhaled, and Benzophenone 1, which may negatively affect the endocrine system.

Essie

While word on the street is that Essie is a safer nail polish, we beg to differ. Like OPI, Essie is considered “3-free” (free of toluene, formaldehyde, and DPB) but it also has several ingredients we aren't fans of. It contains aluminum powder and dimethicone. Neither one of these is great for your body to absorb on a regular basis. Though the most recent information from the EWG Skin Deep Cosmetic database is a little dated, they gave Essie a score of 6 at one point, which is in the moderately hazardous category.

Sally Hansen

Sally Hansen nail polish is also considered “3-free.” Although this is encouraging, it also has some ingredients that aren't the safest, like triphenyl phosphate. This ingredient is considered a toxic ingredient and may lead to allergies. The EWG Skin Deep Cosmetic database gives Sally Hansen a score of 8, which is in the highly hazardous category.

Revlon

The EWG Skin Deep Cosmetic database gives Revlon a score of 3 and 6, which is in the moderately hazardous category. However, with ingredients like aluminum powder, it's still on our no-go list.

What are the best non-toxic nail polish brands?

bottles of non-toxic nail polish in many colors laid out on a marble board

We tested and tested and tested this for you! After dozens of safer nail polishes, countless colors, and countless team manicures, we've come up with a list of the best healthy nail polish brands with notes on how they actually perform. We believe there's something for everyone here!

Aila Nail Polish Review

This polish has a formula that is actually designed to nourish and improve the condition of your nails. This is a great polish to start with if you are looking for less toxic options! This was my (Cassy) personal favorite out of the whole batch! Unfortunately, at this time, there is no EWG rating available for this polish.

  • Pros:
    • Free of 8 of the harshest chemicals found in most polishes, including formaldehyde.
    • The formula has nutrients to help the overall health of your nails (including their oil-based polish remover).
    • Applies BEAUTIFULLY. The applicator brush is precise and the paint didn't ever lump or bubble.
    • Dries quickly! I could paint my nails 30 minutes before bed without worry of waking up to the imprint of my sheets on my nails.
    • Marked as cruelty-free and gluten-free.
    • $14 a bottle, this is one of the lower-priced polishes on our list.
  • Cons:
    • I could get an honest 5 days out of a manicure, though note that my nails take a beating (I wash a lot of dishes). This is actually higher than several of the other brands below, but not nearly as long as a conventional gel or dip manicure.
    • I found that the nail polish remover (notes on it below) would leak if I traveled with it.
  • Certifications:
    • None that we could find.
  • Favorite Colors:

Cote Safer Nail Polish Review

This polish is free of 6 of the most harmful polish chemicals. It comes in a variety of modern colors and tends to last longer than most low-toxin polishes. An EWG rating is not yet available for Cote nail polish.

  • Pros:
    • Free of 6 of the most harmful polish chemicals.
    • Vegan and cruelty-free
    • 120 different shades in beautiful, modern color gradients.
    • Comes in a beautiful variety of colors.
    • Marketed as lasting longer than most low-toxin polishes, though I only really got about 6 days out of a manicure.
  • Cons:
    • I found that this polish takes a little longer to dry (had to give my nails a good 30-45 minutes of no contact) and did not pass the “paint nails before bed” sheet imprint test.
    • $18 a bottle, it's a higher price for not much better performance, in my opinion.
  • Certifications:
    • None that we could find.
  • Favorite Colors:
    • Spring – Sea Foam Green is a beautiful soft, green
    • Summer – No. 2 is a vibrant white
    • Fall – No. 48 is a pretty mauve
    • Winter – No. 32 is a great option for a classic red

Zoya Nail Polish Review

Zoya is known for its long-lasting wear and non-toxic formula. With over 400 hundred colors to choose from, you will have no trouble finding the perfect color for fall. Zoya nail polish is currently not in the EWG database.

  • Pros:
    • 10-free. Free of 10 of the most harmful leading polish ingredients
    • Also marketed as having long-lasting wear, I also got about 6 days out of a manicure.
    • Their marketing material boasts a non-toxic formula, but it's tough to find exact details on what this means.
    • I found that if I were in a rush, I could actually apply a single coat and still have a finished (though not quite as long-lasting) look.
    • $10 a bottle, this is one of the most affordable in our list!
  • Cons:
    • Similar to Cote, I found that the average color from the line took a while to dry.
    • I also found that it had a tendency of going on thicker, making it slightly trickier to apply.
  • Certifications:
    • None that we could find.
  • Favorite Colors:
    • Spring – Elena is a beautiful, soft baby blue
    • Summer – Paz is a fun orange, red
    • Fall – Rye is a great purple that pops on your fingers
    • Winter – Willa is the perfect “make a statement” black

Piggy Paint Nail Polish Review

You can check out matte or glossy options at your local Target! This polish has an EWG rating of 1/2, which is considered the lowest hazardous score!

  • Pros:
    • 7-free
    • No harsh smell
    • Very low toxicity
    • Fun, vibrant colors
    • Cruelty-free and vegan
    • Only $7.99 a bottle, this is an amazing value for such a low-toxic polish option!
  • Cons:
    • Water-based formula- does not last as long as other formulas (use a base/topcoat for longer wear!)
  • Certifications:
    • None that we could find.
  • Favorite Colors:
    • Spring – Pinkie Promise is fun pink that is great on any skin complexion
    • Summer – LOL is the perfect hot pink for summer
    • Fall – Sleepover is a gorgeous deep gray
    • Winter – Sometimes Sweet is a great deeper red

Sophi Nail Polish Review

This company has gone above and beyond to figure out how to create vibrant, beautiful colors without sacrificing health. They currently have an EWG rating of 1/2. This is considered a very low toxic score!

  • Pros:
    • Free of all toxic chemicals, not just 10 free!
    • Vegan and cruelty-free
    • Beautiful color options
    • I will say that when I put in the effort for a Sophi manicure, they did last a few days longer than the other options! About 7 full days with heavy “nail abuse” (lots of dishes washed, cooking, gardening, etc.).
    • Closest safer option to a conventional gel manicure, in my opinion.
    • We love that this polish is only $7.99 a bottle!
  • Cons:
    • This polish takes some getting used to. Application is easy, but to set the polish, you have to use heat (like from a blow-drier) at each coat. If it's not a routine you're accustomed to, this can add some time to your manicure.
    • You need the Sophi polish remover in order to remove this polish (or just peel it off – no bueno). Read more on the remover below! It's unique!
  • Certifications:
    • None that we could find.
  • Favorite Colors:

ella + mila Nail Polish Review

ella + mila is another great brand to add to your nail polish collection. At this time, there is no rating for this polish in the EWG database.

  • Pros:
    • 7-free
    • Low in odor
    • Vegan and cruelty-free
    • Extremely chip-resistant
    • On the more cost-efficient side of our polish lists at only $7-10.50 a bottle
  • Cons:
    • Takes a little longer to dry
  • Certifications:
    • None that we could find.
  • Favorite Colors:

100% Pure Nail Polish Review

Although not as safe as other non-toxic polishes (rolling in at a 6 in EWG), 100% Pure Safer Nail Polishes come in some lovely colors.

  • Pros:
    • 10-free of the top 10 most common toxic polish ingredients, including formaldehyde.
    • The formula is creamy and goes on smooth
    • Marketed as safe for kids (though, that EWG rating is concerning).
    • Vegan and cruelty-free
    • $14 a bottle, a decent price for non-toxic polish!
  • Cons:
    • Scored a 6 in EWG, one of the highest of the “safer” polishes on the market.
  • Certifications:
    • None that we could find.
  • Favorite Colors:
    • Spring – Soul Mate is the perfect creamy pink
    • Summer – Tomato is a beautiful combination of red and orange
    • Fall – Velveteen is a soft nude with a hint of pink.
    • Winter – Souffle is a warm, glittery brown

Keeki Pure and Simple Nail Polish Review

We are excited to let you know that this polish has an EWG rating of 2, a low hazardous score!

  • Pros:
    • 7-free
    • Doesn't have a strong smell
    • Non-toxic
    • Bold colors
    • Cruelty-free
    • Only $6.99-9.99 a bottle!
  • Cons:
    • Water-based formula- tends to chip easily
    • Can be a little difficult to remove
  • Certifications:
    • Leaping Bunny Certified
  • Favorite Colors:

Poofy Organics Nail Polish Review

We love that Poofy Organics is another non-toxic nail polish with a low EWG rating. This polish scored a 2!

  • Pros:
    • Not just 10-free- free of 12 harmful toxins that other nail polishes use
    • Chip resistant, I could get an honest 6 days out of a manicure with minimal “wear”
    • Safe for kids
    • Cruelty-free
    • At $11 a bottle, this is a great value for a low-toxic polish.
  • Cons:
    • It can take a little longer to dry, so give yourself some time between your at-home manicure and your next activity.
  • Certifications:
    • Leaping Bunny Certified
  • Favorite Colors:

NCLA Nail Polish Review 

Coming in with an EWG rating of 3/4 (moderately hazardous category), this polish option falls near the bottom of the list for the team.

  • Pros:
    • 7-free: making it free of Toluene, Camphor, and 5 other harmful chemicals
    • Marketed as a high-shine formula
    • Vegan, cruelty-free
    • Really fresh, young colors to choose from.
    • $16 for a bottle, it's priced right in the middle of the pack.
  • Cons:
    • Though I like so much of what this brand stands for, the slightly higher EWG rating is concerning.
  • Certifications:
    • Leaping Bunny Certified
  • Favorite Colors:
    • Spring – Members Only is a beautiful robin's egg blue
    • Summer – Tennis Anyone? is the perfect yellow that just screams summer!
    • Fall – Virgo is a fabulous deep blue
    • Winter – Scorpio is a rich red ideal for Christmas and New Year’s

Karma Organic Natural Nail Polish Review

Unfortunately, there is no EWG information available for this polish at this time.

  • Pros:
    • 10 free
    • Non-yellowing formula
    • Long-lasting
    • Easy to remove
    • Made without the leading harsh chemicals
    • Vegan and cruelty-free
    • At just $9.99 a bottle, this polish won't break the bank!
  • Cons:
    • Not as low odor has some of the other natural polishes
  • Certifications:
    • None that we could find.
  • Favorite Colors:

A few non-toxic nail polish remover options:

It took some digging and you should know that safer nail polish removers can be very different in experience than traditional polish remover! Some are gel-like, some are oil-based, some require (what feels like) way more product, and some don't feel any different at all. Here are a few of the brands we recommend:

Zoya Nail Polish Remover Review

This is a great option for remover because it easily removes polish without that overwhelming obnoxious remover smell. In fact, it actually smells like Lavender! It also has nutrients in it that help condition and protects the nail.

  • Pros:
    • Doesn't have that overwhelming obnoxious remover smell
    • Smells like Lavender
    • Has nutrients in it that help condition and protect the nail
  • Cons:
    • More expensive than traditional nail polish removers

Cote Nail Polish Remover  Review

The pros of Cote nail polish remover are that it comes in a very handy top-press dispenser, but I've found that it has an offensive odor and evaporates very quickly, causing me to use a lot of product to get my polish removed.

  • Pros:
    • Comes in a very handy top-press dispenser
  • Cons:
    • I've found that it has an offensive odor
    • Evaporates very quickly, causing me to use a lot of product to get my polish removed

Sophi Nail Polish Remover Review

Though this polish remover only makes sense if you're using it to remove Sophie nail polish, it does work well! It's actually a gel and you will apply it to sit on top of your nails for several minutes. Once the remover has worked, you'll notice that the Sophie nail polish has “lifted” off of your nail. It's pretty neat!

  • Pros:
    • It works like a charm!
    • It's like observing a science experiment.
  • Cons:
    • It can be difficult to use at first.
    • You have to sit still while the “remover” separates the polish from your nail.

Aila Nail Polish Remover Review

This one is my personal favorite! It doesn't have an offensive odor, is oil-like, and removes the polish beautifully.

  • Pros:
    • Doesn't have an offensive odor
    • It is actually oil-like, and removes the polish beautifully.
  • Cons:
    • It can leak if you travel with it.

Best Non-Toxic Nail Polish Brands for Kids:

Piggy Paint Girl's Nail Polish is a great option if you are looking for 100% non-toxic nail polish for girls. It is chemical-free, low odor, and comes in fun colors! 

  • Pros:
    • 100% non-toxic nail polish
    • Low odor
    • Comes in fun colors
  • Cons:
    • Tends to chip easily (use a topcoat)

Emosa Nail Polish for kids is water-based and is free of harsh chemicals. We love this set because of the fun color options and because it comes with a top coat!

  • Pros:
    • Free of many harsh chemicals
  • Cons:
    • Water-based (top or base coat needed)

Karma Kid's nail polish is another great option for kids! Although it is free of several harsh chemicals, it does tend to have a stronger smell than other non-toxic polishes.

  • Pros:
    • Free of many harsh chemicals
  • Cons:
    • Stronger smell

Snails Non-Toxic Nail Polish is completely toxin-free, odorless, and even washable!

  • Pros:
    • Toxin-free
    • Odorless
    • Washable
  • Cons:
    • A little more expensive (~$11/bottle)

What if you just can't give up your go-to nail polish?

We totally understand! If you want to take one small step towards safer, consider first painting your nail with a safer polish base coat (this is my favorite safer polish base coat). Let that dry (forming a barrier) and then apply your favorite conventional nail polish color on top.

Here's our take on safer nail polish:

Don't stress! There are better options available to us now, but we don't think it's anything to lose sleep over.

Comments

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  1. Cassie says:

    This is so helpful! Thanks for doing this! I did want to let you know that not all of your beautycounter product links worked for me. Only the skincare lines did.

    5.0 rating

  2. Kaylynn Ruffin says:

    Thank you!!!!!

  3. Kristen says:

    Wow, this is amazing! So thorough, thank you for putting it together. I was hoping for details on the powdered polish that you dip your nails into that I’ve seen you use in IG stories…did that not make the cut for a safer option?

  4. Gladys Ferreira says:

    I wish you talk about press on nails too.

    5.0 rating

  5. Malena says:

    Do any of these safer brands have gel nail polish?

  6. Lauren says:

    From a polish addict and clean beauty advocate thank you soooo much for this article. Nail polish and clean beauty can co-exists! You ladies are a trusted source of info for me. Excited to try Sophi and Aila! I’m already a Zoya fanatic!
    I can’t give up a few of my OPI and indie brand shades so I love that you took a moderate approach to the not as safe brands and recommended safer base coat.

    5.0 rating