What Is Non-Toxic Nail Polish? Studies, Clean Brands (2020)

Natural Pioneers What Is Non-Toxic Nail Polish

Is your nail polish safe? I found out that mine wasn’t and I’ll explain why. We’ll dive into toxins, their impact on our health, and non-toxic nail polish brands you can trust.

Non-toxic nail polish is formulated without toxic ingredients including but not limited to formaldehyde, toluene, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, benzophenones, butyl alcohol, and plasticizers like dibutyl phthalate (DBP).

Let’s start with an overview of toxins that you can find in common drugstore nail polishes.

1. Are There Toxins Nail Polish?

I’ll be honest with you. Until recently, I have never really questioned the safety of my nail polish. If anything, I had guessed that my nail polish remover is much more of a hazard than the nail polish itself. Turns out, I was wrong.

We went through numerous studies to learn about toxins in nail polish and only a few days later, I had cleared out my entire nail polish collection and exchanged it for safe polishes.

On a global scale, 85-90% of women and 10-12% of men use nail care products across the world. [1] That’s a significant amount considering that the EWG found toxins in over 1,500 nail products – including polishes made by Sally Hansen, OPI, Wet N Wild, butter LONDON, Essie, Revlon, Milani, SpaRitual, Orly, theBalm, Nuance by Salma Hayek, Maybelline, and Beauty Without Cruelty. [2], [3]

The bad boys? Formaldehyde, toluene, plasticizers (for example dibutyl phthalate), triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, benzophenones, and butyl alcohol.

A recent study tested 10 nail polishes for TPHP and found it in eight of them. Interestingly, clear polishes generally contain more TPHP than colored polishes. More importantly, two of the eight polishes that tested positive for TPHP did not disclose its presence on product labels. [4] However, looking for a non-toxic certified product in the first place will simplify your search for a new polish.

Natural Pioneers What Is Non-Toxic Nail Polish Toxic nail polish brands list

>> Learn more about environmental toxins in our home in our article non-toxic living

What About N-Free Nail Polishes?

You might have heard of n-free labels. They are formulated without a certain number of toxins (primarily toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate). For example 3-free nail polishes exclude 3 known toxins from their products. This trend spread quickly, and labels now tout the absence of as many as 13 different chemicals.

While the definitions are inconsistent, and manufacturers, for the most part, can freely pick what chemicals not to include in their formulation, there was certainly some hope that this would result in safer products. However, recent studies show that some substitute ingredients are just as harmful. Overall, most nail polish manufacturers have not managed to formulate non-toxic products. [5], [6] 

Can Toxins Be Absorbed Through Our Nails?

“It is very troubling that nail polish being marketed to women and teenage girls contains a suspected endocrine disruptor. It is even more troubling to learn that their bodies absorb this chemical relatively quickly after they apply a coat of polish.” [8]

Johanna Congleton, Ph.D., MSPH, Senior Scientist at EWG

It seems so unlikely for a substance to permeate our nails, right? However, studies have shown that certain toxins do enter our bodies through our nails. In fact, measuring toxin levels in women’s urine, studies found that 10-14 hours after polishing nails, toxic levels were 7x higher. These studies indicate that certain nail polishes significantly contribute to toxic exposure, for frequent users, this is a long-term hazard. [7]

The Take-Away: Toxins in nail polish include formaldehyde, toluene, plasticizers (for example dibutyl phthalate), triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, benzophenones, and butyl alcohol. While n-free products claim to be less toxic, studies have shown that their substitute ingredients are just as harmful. Toxins are absorbed through your nails and can be measured in urine spiking to a 7-fold increase after 10-14 hours of polishing nails.

Alright, we now know that there are toxins in our nail polish that can be measured in our urine after a couple of hours. But what impact do they have on our health? And is the dose significant enough to do any harm? Let’s find out.

Natural Pioneers What Is Non-Toxic Nail Polish toxins in nail polish

>> Learn more about non-toxic beauty and how to identify clean makeup

2. Health Impact Of Toxins In Nail Polish

Currently, TPHP is undoubtedly one of the most concerning toxins in our nail polish. That is because studies were able to detect a 7-fold increase in toxicity in our urine after 10-14 hours of applying nail polish. [9]

TPHP is linked to endocrine disruption. In animal studies, it has caused reproductive and developmental problems. Recent scientific research suggests that TPHP may contribute to weight gain and obesity. Generally, Americans are extensively exposed to TPHP. Sources other than nail polish include fire retardants often applied to foam cushioning in furniture, beds, and pillows. Women are more exposed through their use of personal care products, including nail polish. [10], [11]

>> Learn more about toxins in mattresses here.

“It is possible that TPHP is now being used in nail polish as a replacement for phthalates, which also have endocrine-disrupting properties and are toxic to the reproductive system. However, it’s not clear that TPHP is the better alternative. There is growing evidence suggesting that TPHP may affect hormone regulation, metabolism, reproduction and development.” [12]

Heather Stapleton, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Duke University

The most recent studies are striking as they suggest TPHP to interact with a protein that’s regulating the body’s metabolism and production of fat cells. Scientists are conducting more investigations to discover whether, in fact, TPHP contributes to weight gain and obesity. [13] Moreover, TPHP may decrease testicular testosterone levels in men and is associated with decreased semen quality. [14], [15]

The Take-Away: TPHP is only one of numerous toxins in nail polish. Studies show that TPHP is linked to hormone disruption, decreased testosterone levels, decreased semen quality in men, weight gain, and obesity. Switching to non-toxic nail polish along with eliminating other sources of TPHP exposure are vital steps to protecting your health.

It’s time to find out how non-toxic nail polish is made and how to identify it.

Natural Pioneers What Is Non-Toxic Nail Polish non-toxic nail polish definition

>> Learn more about toxins in mascara and safe, non-toxic mascara brands

3. Non-Toxic Nail Polish | Definition

Safe, non-toxic nail polishes can be made with as little as 4 ingredients. Make sure that you don’t fall for empty claims. Even some 13-free polishes contain toxic ingredients and should not be considered safer than regular drugstore polish. I personally always recommend for my clients to check their current and future products on EWG Skin Deep.

Non-toxic nail polish is formulated without toxic ingredients including but not limited to formaldehyde, toluene, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, benzophenones, butyl alcohol, and plasticizers like dibutyl phthalate (DBP).

Curious about what brands you should be using? We’ve compiled a list of safe, non-toxic brands below and recommend you use these at home or bring them along with you to the nail salon.

4. Non-Toxic Nail Polish Brands

What brands of nail polish are non-toxic? Here’s a list of brands you can trust. We’ll add more brands as we learn about new non-toxic options for nail polish.

1. Sophi

Sophi nail polishes come in many warm and festive colors. We love their gift sets!

2. Piggy Paint

Piggy paint is great for kids, with many kid-friendly color options (that work just as well on adults).

3. Kapa nui

Kapa nui is one of our favorites. They come with stylish wooden caps & amazing colors! Their mantra? “Women’ s health + planet health = natural beauty” – We love it!

4. Poofy Supernaturals

If you’re into glitter, poofy supernaturals has you covered. Kids love their colors, too!

5. Côte

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop has been a huge inspiration throughout the launch of Natural Pioneers. You’ll find Côte nail polishes in their online store, they are elegant and classy.

6. Honeybee Gardens

Honeybee Gardens’ nail polishes are definitely on the brighter side. They are perfect for that stand-out look!

5. Conclusion

Toxins in nail polish include formaldehyde, toluene, plasticizers (for example dibutyl phthalate), triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, benzophenones, and butyl alcohol.

Studies show that TPHP is linked to hormone disruption, decreased testosterone levels, decreased semen quality in men, weight gain, and obesity. Switching to non-toxic nail polish along with eliminating other sources of TPHP exposure are vital steps to protecting your health.

While n-free products claim to be less toxic, studies have shown that their substitute ingredients are just as harmful. Toxins are absorbed through our nails and can be measured in our urine spiking to a 7-fold increase after 10-14 hours of polishing nails.

Definition of non-toxic nail polish:

Non-toxic nail polish is formulated without toxic ingredients including but not limited to formaldehyde, toluene, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, benzophenones, butyl alcohol, and plasticizers like dibutyl phthalate (DBP).

By voting with your dollars you can help shift the marketplace towards safer, healthier products. Natural Pioneers recommends non-toxic brands like Sophi, Piggy Paint, Kapa nui, Poofy Supernaturals, Côte, and Honeybee Gardens.