Healthy Nail Polish Brands

Jun. 25, 2018Formaldehyde. Toluene. Camphor. Shellac. When listed out, at best this roster of chemicals sounds like something you’d use to finish a house or clean a toilet with. And at worst, certainly a list you’d want to avoid as much as humanly possible, right? But what if I told you approximately 58% of us were exposed to these toxins on a regular — sometimes weekly and even daily — basis? Scary stuff, right? Just where are these pollutants lurking?Nail polish.

That’s right. The gorgeous color you or your nail technician swipe on your fingers and toes every week more often than not contains all of the above listed toxins — and quite often more. What makes these chemicals so bad? Glad you asked.


Formaldehyde: Chronic exposure can cause everything from asthma to allergies and put you at greater risk of sinus cancer and certain types of leukemia.

Toulene: Could put you at greater risk of a variety of cancers and increase your risk of developing cataracts by over 1000%.

Camphor: Exposure could cause difficulty breathing and may cause skin irritation.

Shellac: Often used in gel manicures, which require UV light to cure and therefore the potential to develop skin cancer, shellac could cause allergic reactions and can weaken nails.

While they may seem hard to the touch, our nails are porous. This is why nails often become brittle with constant water exposure, and what makes using conventional nail polish so dangerous. When we paint polish onto our fingernail or toenails, it doesn’t just sit there. The chemicals within can leech through the nail and into our systems and cause very real threats, especially to nail artists and technicians, who are around polish day in and day out.


Healthier Nail Polish

It’s easy to see why seeking out an alternative nail polish is a good call. And thankfully, better-for-you nail polish has come a long way from the peel-off vegan polishes of our youth (or at least, this author’s youth — seriously, anyone remember those?).

When searching for a healthier nail polish, the phrase you want to look for is “free”. While you’ll still be shelling out some cash for the perfect shade of ballet pink of sunset orange, finding a bottle that boasts “5-free” — or better yet “9-free” — means that particular polish is free from the chemicals listed above and often many more.

The good news is, finding chic shades of polish with healthier formulas is easier than ever.

Can You Recycle Nail Polish?

Now, the question remains: How do you dispose of nail polish you no longer want? Unfortunately, it can’t be recycled (let that be a lesson in consumption to us all — author included).

Unopened, unused nail polish can often be donated to you local women’s shelter (be sure to give them a call first) or to organizations like Beauty Bus and Family-to-Family. But what to do with the bottles and bottles of partially-used polish hogging your cabinets? Unfortunately, they must be treated like household hazardous waste (really) — and please, don’t dump them into the trash or — heaven forbid — down the drain, that’s awful for your pipes and the environment!

Says Earth 911: “The U.S. EPA considers nail polish to be household hazardous waste (HHW) due to the toxic chemicals swarming within that bottle of shimmer and shine.”


Luckily, Earth 911 offers a handy search tool to help you find the closest Household Hazardous Waste facility so you can bid those old polishes goodbye. The good news? Once you’ve cleaned out your nail polish supply, it’s time to find a new shade or two of better-for-you (and WAY better-for-the-earth) nail polish. Wondering where to start? Check out the two options below and you’ll be planning your next mani/pedi party in no time!

Pro tip: While more and more eco-friendly nail salons are popping up across the country, if there isn’t one near you, just bring your own polish the next time you make an appointment! Maybe you’ll even inspire your manicurist to look into polish alternatives.


Smith & Cult

Natural Nail Polish Smith Cult

If the name Dineh Mohajer doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps this will: Hard Candy. Yes, the founder of cool-girl beauty brand Smith & Cult is the same founder of cool-girl (‘90s) beauty brand Hard Candy, which she created as a pre-med college student back in 1995. Who else remembers the joy of those little rings that came with uber-cool shades of polish that mirrored a cloudless sky or freshly mowed grass? The shades — and the ads that sold them — became the stuff of legend, and lucky for us, Mohajer has funnelled the same vibrant, in-your-face creativity into Smith & Cult.

Smith & Cult’s range of products include bold eye and lip colors, highlighters, blush and bronzers… and yes, incredible shades of nail polish, too. Featuring formulas with names like Kundalini Hustle (a bold, classic red), Fauntleroy (a dainty lavender), and Darjeeling Darling (a deep, verdant jade), the shades were made to stand out and be seen, but that’s not the only thing that sets Mohajer’s brand apart from the polishes found at your local pharmacy.

“As we progress in the beauty industry (and hopefully as humans) it has become alarmingly necessary that we collectively move in a healthier direction that is beneficial for both our physiology, as well as our environment. Our Nailed Lacquer formula is 8-Free (lacking in evil-like chemicals such as Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin and Camphor), yet doesn’t compromise pigment intensity, level of shine, or length of wear time. It’s also a quick-dry formula and as an added benefit, with leaving out the 8 nasties, you now don’t have to turn on fans or open windows when you use Smith & Cult to paint your nails!” — Dineh Mohajer, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Smith & Cult

You read that right: Not only do Smith & Cult Nailed Lacquer polishes offer enviable color intensity, they’re actually far healthier than conventional options, so you can paint your nails with confidence! Other product formulas in the Smith & Cult arsenal are also vegan, gluten-, and paraben-free — score one for the planet!



Natural Nail Polish Veque

Polish brand Veque (pronounced vey-quay) was launched into cultural consciousness this past fall when retailer J.Crew brought the polishes to 100 locations nationwide and online. Prior to this, the 9-free, small-batch brand was only available in its hometown of Seattle, where Veque founder and CEO, Audrey Siu (who, it should be noted, is also a consultant for technology firms) lives and works. Hailing from a long line of nail care specialists, Siu pays homage to her roots with Veque, but also aims to set a new standard in nail care.

“Polishing your nails should be a fun, happy experience that you do for yourself and with your girlfriends, mom, or daughter.  It should not become a questionable, uneasy experience due to unnecessary and harmful ingredients.” – Audrey Siu, Founder & CEO of VEQUE

With shades to please literally anybody — from the impossibly deep, gothy blue of Audacieux, to ultra-feminine Fantome — Veque’s wide range of polish shades suit every mood. And because they’re formulated without Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, DBP, Toluene, Camphor, Ethyl Tosylamide, Xylene, TPHP, or Shellac, you can feel good about painting your nails anywhere, anytime.


Do you have a better-for-you nail polish to recommend? Share with us by tagging us with @AvocadoMattress or #AvocadoGreenMagazine


Julie O'Boyle

By Julie O'Boyle

 —  Julie O'Boyle is a freelance writer and content strategist with a background in fashion and DIY and a devotion to the outdoors and functional nutrition. Currently residing in the woods of Maine, when she's not writing you can find her at the beach or on a mountain, or otherwise getting her hands dirty.

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