The 7 best nontoxic nail polish brands that you can feel good about using
A variety of harmful chemicals are often included in nail polishes to add strength and shine.
- We’ve rounded up 7 of the best toxin-free polish brands on the market. ● For more information about nontoxic polishes, check out our FAQ section.
- This article was medically reviewed by Sharleen St. Surin-Lord, MD, a board-certified dermatologist.
As the discussion around what is in beauty and skincare products continues, plenty of folks have become more mindful about what they apply to their faces and bodies. However, one of the harder switches to make is toward ‘cleaner’ nail polishes, despite the fact that they traditionally are one of the worst chemical-laden culprits. In order to get to the bottom of the chemical conundrum, we chatted with a few experts to answer questions about what these chemicals are, what they do, and whether you should be worried about them — so make sure to check out our frequently asked questions. We then rounded up the best brands committed to nontoxic polishes, and the colors to shop.
These are the best nontoxic nail polish brands in 2021:
Nails Inc Plant Power
London-based brand Nails Inc. has a new range that excludes more toxins than any other polishes.
- Formula does not include: parabens, camphor, xylene, phthalates, TPHP, toluene
- Color range: 14 shades
Nails Inc has taken free-from polishes to a whole new level with the launch of the brand’s Plant Power range, which boasts a 21-free formulation. About 73% of the ingredients are plant-based, and the range is entirely vegan and cruelty-free. Even the bottles are full of eco-friendly charm, thanks to a cap made from 100% recyclable and sustainable wood. In just 14 shades, the color selection is fairly limited compared to other brands. But the stunning tones of those available do help compensate for this. Plus, users adore how quickly it dries and how long it lasts.
What to buy:
Nails Inc Soul Surfing Plant Power Vegan Nail Polish
Nails Inc What’s Your Spirituality Plant Power Vegan Nail Polish Smith & Cult
A winning combination of stunning polish shades and luxe packaging means you’ll want to show off Smith & Cultwherever possible.
- Formula does not include: camphor, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, formaldehyde resin, TPHP, toluene
- Color range: 60+ shades
Everything about Smith & Cult’s eight-free range emanates elegant chic: from the 60-plus colors on offer to the adorable bottle. Reviewers and beauty editors praise the high quality and long-lasting nature of these polishes, stating they even withstand heavy-duty dishwashing and gardening sessions.
We’re also a little bit obsessed with the packaging: The uniquely rippled lids and chunky glass bottles resemble miniature perfume bottles that you’d be happy to display proudly, rather than stash away in your bathroom cabinet.
What to buy:
Smith & Cult A Little Lovely
Smith & Cult Analog Fog
Smith & Cult Kings and Thieves
You’ll find every possible color on offer in Zoya‘s range, which has been leading in toxin-free polishes for decades.
- Formula does not include: camphor, parabens, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, lead, toluene
- Color range: 400+ shades
As the first brand to remove a number of key toxins from their formulations, Zoya has long led the way in offering more natural nail polishes. The brand frequently earns plaudits from beauty editors and consumers alike thanks to its chip-resistant quality, although some note its drying time isn’t the speediest.
In addition to its 10-free formula, longevity, and vegan-friendly and cruelty-free credentials, we love how many shades the range comprises – 400 and counting – so there’s literally one for every day of the year (and then some).
What to buy:
In addition to being formulated without an array of key toxins, Dr.’s Remedy‘s polishes comprise a host of nutrients to nourish and strengthen nails.
- Formula does not include: camphor, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, parabens, TPHP, toluene
- Color range: 40+ shades
If you like to get a bit of extra bang for your buck, this podiatrist-founded brand has you covered. We love that, in addition to being free from 10 key toxins, formulations also include a range of beneficial ingredients for nail health – including tea tree oil, vitamins C and E, garlic bulb extract, biotin, and wheat protein.
There are over 40 different shades to choose from, with plenty of options if you’re a fan of pink and red hues in particular. Users comment that it paints on smoothly, makes nails look and feel visibly stronger, and can last a week before chipping. That said, some also note that it takes a while to fully dry – so maybe not one if you’re in a rush.
What to buy:
Dr’s Remedy Hopeful Hot Pink
Dr’s Remedy Trusting Turquoise
Dr’s Remedy Mindful Mulberry
After producing polishes for decades, Sally Hansen‘s foray into the toxin-free market sees a range packed with eco-credentials.
- Formula does not include: parabens, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, TPHP, camphor, toluene
- Color range: 30 shades
It was only at the end of 2020 that Sally Hansen’s polishes ventured into the toxin-free territory with the brand’s plant-based, 16-free Good. Kind. Pure. collection.
This range comprises 30 different shades, from chic nudes to smoky greys. Users rave about the longevity of the formulation (some reporting two weeks),
especially when applied with a top coat. Plus, the brush’s 100% natural fibers boost the range’s eco-friendly credentials further.
What to buy:
Sally Hansen White Tea
Sally Hansen Cherry Amore
Sally Hansen Crystal Blue
A newcomer to the polish scene, a vibrant color palette, and popular TikTok collaborations have helped propel Orosa into the big leagues.
- Formula does not include: parabens, ethyl tosylamide, camphor, TPHP, xylene, toluene
- Color range: 45+ shades
Launched in summer 2019, Orosa has swiftly earned its place alongside other popular polish brands, thanks to its fun and fresh approach. While many others build their offering around different hues of various primary shades, we love that
you’ll find plenty of variation amongst their 14-free polishes, including eye-catching neons and party-ready glitters.
The brush has been designed to offer better control, and the polishes themselves are vibrant, high-quality, and long-lasting. The polishes are also formulated to be quick-drying, and everything is vegan and cruelty-free.
What to buy:
Orosa Clementine Pure Cover Nail Paint
Orosa Sage Pure Cover Nail Paint
Orosa Dusk Pure Cover Nail Paint
Nailberry‘s cleaner formulation is paired with oxygen-infused technology to create a polish that’s kinder to nails in myriad ways.
- Formula does not include: camphor, xylene, TPHP, parabens, phthalates, toluene
- Color range: 70 shades
In addition to being free from 12 different chemical toxins, vegan and cruelty-free, Nailberry’s formulations comprise a patented L’Oxygéné technology, which makes them more breathable for healthier nails. There’s an impressive 70 hues to choose from, and multiple users and beauty editors comment on how smoothly it applies and its fast-drying quality.
What to buy:
Nailberry Minty Fresh
Nailberry Candy Floss
Frequently asked questions
Which ingredients are considered harmful, and what do they do?
Three chemicals are particularly problematic: formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and toluene. “These make a toxic trio that can have some very negative effects on the nails and the body,” states Stacy Chimento, MD, a dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami.
In fact, they have been linked to impacting the nervous system, reproductive issues, birth defects, and increased risk of nasal and lung cancer, Chimento says. DBP is banned in Europe and, along with formaldehyde, is banned in California; but otherwise, all three remain legal in the US.
Nowadays, the large majority of nail polish brands have eradicated this trio, leading to what’s known as ‘three free formulations. But, some are removing other harmful chemicals from their formulations, too: such as camphor, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), xylene, ethyl tosylamide, formaldehyde resin, sulfates, and parabens. Between them, these are linked to eye, skin, and lung irritation; hormonal and fertility disruption; headaches, nausea, and dizziness; increased cancer risk; and antibiotic resistance, to name but a few.
“It’s important to remember that…if one specific chemical isn’t used in a particular polish, another one likely is” – so check that ingredients list if you’re concerned. “The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database is a good place to start researching,” suggests Kate Hoffman PhD, assistant research professor at Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University.
Do I need to be worried about these chemicals?
Chimento states that chemicals in polishes can be absorbed through both the cuticles and nails themselves, but are just as easily inhaled through their fumes (and we’re all familiar with that distinctive scent).
The main issue is that, while studies show the body does absorb chemicals in nail polishes, research is lacking around whether levels are significant enough to affect us long-term. “The amount you absorb, and whether or not it’s enough to negatively impact health, is not well established,” Hoffman shares. “Many chemicals used in nail polish are metabolized and quickly clear from the body. For example, we assessed exposure to TPHP during nail painting and found that markers of exposure went up after painting and decreased within a day or two.”
Hoffman says that, for those who only use polishes on occasion, their exposure levels are probably low. “But for people who paint their nails regularly, or work in nail salons, polishes may be a more important source of exposure”; especially when combined with amounts in other everyday products (TPHP is also used as a fire retardant in furniture, for example).
While the jury remains out on the real impact of these chemicals, “it is enough of a concern to fuel a move to clean or ‘safer’ nail polish options,” states Chimento. Essentially, “there isn’t a way for this type of product to exist if it is not formulated
with chemicals. But there are ways to make formulas safer, and that is what some brands are striving to do.”