ABC: Your Guide to Non-Toxic Nail Polish

ABC is for Ask BEAUTYCALYPSE. And you asked: “Is there such a thing as a safe and clean, all non-toxic nail polish?”

This mani is big-3-free.

Today I’ve got you a detailed answer to that.
The answer is… *fanfare*


2013: NO.
2016: YES.

There is no 100% clean, safe, pure, healthy nail polish out there, whether from a conventional or from a certified organic brand.
Just not vegan-friendly.

But first things first.

There have been several attempts to create a safe nail polish for many years.

But the problem was, that in order to fulfill all of our nail polish requirements – great colour palette, shine, certain longevity, no chipping etc. – the nail polish formulas couldn’t be made from 100% purely natural ingredients. You needed softeners, polymers, plasticisers, hardeners… whatnot. Oh, and have you ever wondered why your nail polish is marked as “attention, flammable”? Because of this little bugger: Nitrocellulose. Does “nitro” ring a bell?

And we remember, as obsessed with clean and healthy and safe beauty products as we are, that all those Formaldehydes/ Formaldehyde Resins and Donors, DBP, Toluene, Camphor, BenzophenoneEthyl Acetate, PEGs, DiethylhexylphtalateParabenes, Paraffines, Silicones are neither clean, nor healthy, nor safe. And as for pigments and glimmers… They come in all varieties of clean, toxic, allergenic… And would you like fish scales in your nail polish?

All of that lead us to the question:

How close can I get to a safe nail polish?
What can I do?

Yes, what can you do… Generally, your options to evaluate the plethora of products on the market today are:

1. You can check the brand and then your fave colour’s individual label.

You can’t rely on blogs or magazines to make lists of safe or vegan nail varnishes for one simple reason: manufacturers can change any product’s formula, anytime. In the same range of one manufacturer polishes can be more or less toxic, vegan-friendly and not vegan-friendly. So – yes, the clean beauty’s answer to RTFM* is actually RTFL, where “L” stands for “label”.

* For non-geeks: it’s for Read The F-cking Manual. Sorry soft souls, but that’s how the saying goes.

2. You could ditch nail polish completely.

Naaaah… Really? Seriously? Should you?


2016 UPDATE:
I wrote three posts about alternatives to conventional nail polish, also talking about whether nail buffing is a good idea. I also think that healthy, naturally shiny nails are the ultimate goal, and have shared my thoughts on protecting your hands (and nails) in your daily life.
My favourite, 7-in-1 nail care product (<- this link opens an infographic-style how-to picture in a new tab, do click it to enlarge) is pure myrrh extract but TBH I haven’t used it since 2014 because I just followed what I preached, basically always protecting my hands and nails from mechanical, chemical or environmental damage. Here’s the post about that product, though, it might help if your nails are in a particularly bad condition.
You might want to check out these posts.

Ok, what to do to find a safe nail polish?

For when you choose to rather check “those goddamn labels” than going bare, there are – again – several options.

You absolutely and definitely, always, unnegotiably should go for a big-3-free (= no Formaldehyde, Toluene, DPB) at least. Of course it’s better yet to opt for 5-free (big-3-free + free from Formaldehyde Resin and Camphor), or you may want to try a water based formula.
In addition, you can figure out whether or not the nail polish you like is vegan-friendly.

I try to avoid all toxic ingredients mentioned above and more AS WELL AS checking suspicious ingredients with Codecheck (for North America, use EWG Skindeep) – for sometimes the pigments have nasty secrets, too.

Snap your fingers: “We want squeaky clean nail polish, stat!”



Speaking of conventional cosmetics, personally and before going green I liked the fancy-pantsy brands like Deborah Lippmann, OPIMavala, and Orly. During last years, it’s been only Korres, Tromborg, and Zao nail polishes for me, of course not without checking the individual bottles. I would never use a product that’s under 7-free, and Korres and Zao do even better that that.Mudras-and-Manicure-Korres-Tromborg-Golden-French_CloseUpTromborg ‘Aveta’ and Korres ‘Light Grey’ worn as a “Golden Stripe French” mani.


/A 2016 UPDATE/

As for most organic / natural brands, I’ve come to the conclusion that their nail polishes are just an addition to the product range as in “we need a nail product too”. But those otherwise great and health-focused brands often lack the needed understanding for fashion trends let alone for nail art, and their palettes remain an uninspired picture in beige and brown, sometimes with an alibi spark of a rather bland blue.

Then people told me, hey, there are brands that sail under the green colours, and I’ve looked at them closely.

Kure Bazaar for example has been all the craze.
As far as I know, their colours are 4-free (Formaldehyde, Toluol, Camphor, Dibutylphthalate (DBP)), come in a lush range of fashionable colours and cost about 17 € per bottle.
Also Priti NYCOrganic Glam, SheswaiTreat and many, many more newer brands have been besung by the green beauty bloggers and several editiors for their big-3-or-more-free-ness and great colours. My opinion? If all that you want is a twenty bucks nail varnish that’s hot and big-3-free, you’ll be fine with most OPI products. If you want more “free-from”, check the ingredients and decide – yourself.

The joke: I’ve spotted Benzophenone (a potential endocrine disruptor and a proven allergenic substance) as well as several other nasties in the Kure Bazaar, Priti NYC and Organic Glam nail polishes (here and here and here). Does it mean that they are bad, bad, bad and we should be throwing mud, mud, mud? Hell no. It means that they are free from the toxins they claim to be free from, and if you are fine with that – I’m fine with that, too. For myself, I want the maximum “free-ness” and the maximum quality.

Never forget: ALL conventional polishes are special waste.


(ADDED IN 2016)

End of 2014, there’s been a novelty launch: the world’s first certified organic nail polish by Logona. 
This is, indeed, the closest thing to a safe and tox-free product and comes in a rather sweet, cleverly commercial range of colours (pale nude pink, hotter pink, classic red, berry red, beige brown + top coat).

Let’s analyse the product. OMG, I just said let’s analyse a nail polish.
Here it goes. I’m officially a girly girl, after all 😀

1. Yay factor: The formula is certified with Natrue. The crunch is: it’s certifiable because the main ingredient, bio-alcohol, is certifiable. The (natural) shellac used as the alternative to synthetic lacquer is not organic – but it’s allowed for use in organic cosmetics and even food (think coated candy).
Let’s look at the label = full-disclosure:

Alcohol denat.*, Shellac, Aqua (Water), Ethyl Lactate, Talc, Silica, Glycerin, Mica, Maltodextrin, Tin Oxide, [+/- CI 77891 (Titanium Dioxide), CI 75470 (Carmine)(Contains carmine as a color additive), CI 77491 (Iron Oxides), CI 77499 (Iron Oxides), CI 77492 (Iron Oxides), CI 77007 (Ultramarines)

So, what do we see? The only organic ingredient here is alcohol. Now, don’t get me wrong, other ingredients are safe and non-tox from what we know today. I applaud Logona for finding a decent formula that’s also certifiable with Natrue.

2. Nay factor: The formula is not suitable for vegans. Vegetarians might be okay with it, it really depends on whether or not you are fine with the idea of how shellac is produced. Up to you. Side note: shellac is yellow-ish, which is particularly visible in the top coat product.

3. Nay factor #2: The price is rather premium at €14.99€ for a 4 ml bottle = 100 ml cost €374.75.
And having bought and tested this product right after the launch, I had decided not to review it because I wasn’t entirely happy with its overall quality, I just feel I should add the info now as I update this all-time-fave post:
January-Quest-Report-Win-and-Fail(Pic from my January quest report 2015. This is day 2 of wearing “urban taupe”. I hear that the wear is way better with Logona Top Coat, but that contradicts my personal understanding of what to expect from a nail polish.)

Bottom line? It’s definitely worth trying for toxin-avoiding green beauties who are not vegan and who can easily lash out 30 Euros for colour and top coat.


Speaking of water based products, I’ve only tested Scotch Naturals and Suncoat Polish & Peel.

Scotch Naturals carry the shortest labels I’ve ever seen on a bottle of nail varnish! The ingredient list reads: “aqua, acrylic polymer emulsion, butyl diglycol, non-toxic colorants” = water, plasticiser, solvent, colour. While this label doesn’t sound like something you should eat, none of the compounds is toxic as far as I could find out. This might come the closest to a clean nail polish – but it’s not natural and definitely not behaving quite as a standard varnish does.

Suncoat Polish & Peel quality differs, at least in my experience, from colour to colour. While ‘Lovely Lapis’, ‘Greenista’ and ‘Mulberry’ (a “marsala” colour) were simply Excellent with capital E, to say that I was disappointed by ‘Petal Blush’ and ‘Pink Dhalia’ is to say nothing: they colours would simply not dry at all 😦new-suncoat-packaging-sampling-coloursLeft to right: ‘Petal Blush’, ‘Pink Dhalia’, ‘Mulberry’

suncoat-flower‘Lovely Lapis’ peeled

MySignatureChristmasLooksTag-Manicure‘Greenista’ worn

I want to check out other water-based varnishes available, too, such as Honeybee Gardens, or maybe Acquarella. Depends on what I can get my hands on. Have YOU heard anybody rave about a water-based polish lately? Do tell!

P.S. More on this topic:

Safe nail polish remover
Scotch Naturals review
Suncoat Peelables review
How a German eco-magazine discovered non-tradeable amounts of toxins in pop nail polish brands

41 Comments on “ABC: Your Guide to Non-Toxic Nail Polish

  1. Pingback: Where in the world is RGB Cosmetics? | Sarita Coren

  2. Wondering what your thoughts are on Zoya? They are 5 free plus also no longer have Benzophenone.

    • Hey Debi!
      Oh, Zoya seems pretty rad to me (from glimpses on their ingredient list, so can’t be 100% sure) but the polishes were impossible to come by in Germany. Thanks to your comment (! <3) I have looked again and found a German online shop that carries Zoya. If they're as good as I hope they are, there will be a review! Thank you!

  3. Pingback: Water-Based & Peelable Nail Polish: Suncoat vs. Namaki | BEAUTYCALYPSE: Ethical Excellence – A Quest!

  4. Very good info, I see that you wrote this article in 2013, do you still feel the same about the products you mentioned. Is the any new products on the market now that you would recommend. I am really looking for a safe nail polish I can use.

    Thanks for such a wonderful article.

    • Hi Vana – and thank you!
      Basically, not much has changed in regards of conventional, X-free polishes or water-based polishes. As I said in the post, only reading individual labels truly helps. If I use conventional polishes, I tend to pick Korres. Korres is “11-free”. Tromborg and Zao Beauty, too, are around 10-free, but I prefer Korres simply for their very modern range of colours, and a nice price (around 9-10€ per bottle). These brands have – in my opinion, comparing the INCI again – a better formula than many of the brands marketed as “clean”. I’ve compared the three in one post.
      What’s relatively new is that we have organic polishes on the market, made from organic alcohol (certifiable) and shellac (making these not vegan-friendly). These have a “lacquer”-like effect and wearability and are the closest thing to natural. However they tend to be yellow-tinged due to the shellack which is naturally yellow-brown-ish. I have tried this product right after the launch for the reason of being informed (as I prefer vegan-friendly cosmetics) but was disappointed by their not-so-impressive longevity and didn’t review it, expecting the brand and the follow-ups to perfect the shellac formula.
      There are also new brands aiming at formulating child-safe polishes from edible-only ingredients but you can see that these hardly are something you can wear as an adult (colour, texture).
      Wow, that’s a long A to your excellent Q! 🙂
      Maybe I should update this post sometime soon.

  5. This is all very new and interesting to me I used always use OPI but now the salon I’m working in only lets me use organic pretti NYC brand please email as much information as possible!
    Thanks so much
    Alicia April

  6. Ecco Verde ships Acquarella polishes to Germany:

    The description states “Was Acquarella Nagellacke NICHT enthalten: Toluene, Ketone und petrochemische Lösungsmittel”. Wouldn’t their polishes be petrochemical-free then?


    • Last I looked them up on Codecheck, I saw that they contain Styrene/ Acrylates Copolymer which is a toxic petrochemical.

      Generally, acrylic compounds used in water-based polishes are derived from petroleum, gas, or coal. Of course, there are “safe(r)” petrochemicals, and there are toxic petrochemicals – however, the fact remains: there is NO 100% organic or natural nail polish out there.

      Since 2015, there is one certified organic nail polish line (NaTrue label), but then the only organic ingredient it contains is the bio alcohol which the product is based on. The rest of its formula seems to be natural (as far as I can see, some pigments are synthetic – the NaTrue criteria don’t require all ingredients to be natural or organic). Also it contains shellac, so it’s not vegan-friendly. Still, it’s an interesting, brand new take on going away from toxic nitrocellulose lacquer used in conventional polish formulations.

      Phew, I hope this helps! 🙂

      • Thanks for the info! Good to know about Acquarella.

        Is the NaTrue nail polish you are referring to the same as the Logona Natural Nails line? It looks good but contains talc, unfortunately. (Potential carcinogen according to Codecheck and others.)

        I will stick with Acquarella for now. Here’s to hoping that one day we will have a totally organic, vegan-friendly, talc-free polish. 🙂

        • Yes, yes, it’s Logona. Talc can normally only be cancirogenic in dry formulations. You’re not likely to produce an inhaleable powder from your nail polish, are you? 😉

          I’m with you hoping!

  7. Pingback: Coral Hibiscus Manicure – Sound Five Days (11-Free Lacquer) | BEAUTYCALYPSE >>> Finding Ethical Excellence

    • Yup, you either go bare or choose the lesser devils aka water-based (= not toxic but petrochemical) or big-X-free lacquers.

  8. Pingback: Polka Dot Nail Art, Autumnal Pastels | BEAUTYCALYPSE >>> A Quest for Ethical Excellence

  9. Question. You say :”THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A SAFE NAIL POLISH (yet).”
    But then you say: ”… I’ve only tested Scotch Naturals so far. They seemed the only one water-based brand (actually free from any toxic ingredient) that I could get in Germany.”
    Water based doesn’t classify as nail polish?

    • Dear Inni,
      thank you for this great Q.

      There might be some confusion implied in the word ‘toxic’.

      First, both statements are correct.
      No, there is no such thing as a clean and 100% safe nail polish. You can take out the worst offenders – that’s what brands do when they offer you big-3-free, big-5-free, 7-free polishes – but the product, a lacquer, is impossible to make 100% green.

      If you are in investigative mood, you might want to read my post on the 11-free nail polishes – you will see that even taking out the worst and the bad ingredients, the formula is by no means green. (But I am thankful for Korres to have gone so far, because this is a recipe cleaner than many who claim to be green.) This is the post:

      Onto the water-based polishes. These are not toxic to you and me as we apply it (according to what we know today), but here’s the thing: they are based on petrochemicals. This is by no means a 100% safe ingredient. That’s why many green/organic beauty shops online and off would rather go with Sheswai or even Kure Bazaar or Priti NYC (that do contain a few things I personally don’t want in my polish anymore) than carry water-based formulations. To me, the water-based polishes are much cleaner, but I understand their thinking.

      Thanks again for the Q, and stay curious 🙂

      • Thank you for reply. I’ve read your Korres nail polish review and I’ve decided to go without any if it can’t be 100% natural. Will do some research on nail buffing with oils and other techniques that makes shiny effect. I’m not going after colours anyway- just the shine

        • My pleasure, Inni! I think you can experiment with oils, buffing (but very gently, maybe with a special cloth, as files can make nails very brittle very fast), maybe even henna tattoos for summer parties (make sure that the mix is not toxic). In the end, beautiful, healthy nails have a natural shine, and everything else just mimicks this 🙂

  10. Thanks for thorough info! I just discovered this brand that is water based, not really tested it yet but perhaps you might be interested;

    Suncoat and SuncoatGirl – pioneering water-based nail polishes in both leave-on and reelable formulations

      • wow you are good, thanks so much for the sun coat review and sending it so promptly! Is it specifically nails you review or other organic beauty products too? Where are you based?

        • Why, thank you dear. I’m based in Berlin and I review one helluva different things 🙂 my blog is about a healthy, gorgeous, ethical lifestyle, not just beauty. I’m happy to connect, have checked out your impressive body of work.

          • That is brilliant, and thank you for your compliments. I really like your in-depth writing style, love to discuss a project i am starting. Is there a private way to contact you or would you be free for a Skype call perhaps? You can contact me on

            • I’ve sent you an email yesterday 🙂

  11. A really interesting read thank you! So hard to find a safe alternative to nail polishes. I have pretty much given up on painting my nails now. Will be really happy when a 100% non toxic brand comes out but in the mean time I will try the Scotch Naturals. Do you think they are available in Australia?

  12. Pingback: Ökotest Nail Polish Test: “Chanel + Butter London Not Tradeable” | BEAUTYCALYPSE >>> This is not a drill

  13. What a comprehensive overview! I like RGB nail polishes. Have you tried them yet? I like the water-based brands you mentioned but you have to use their nail polish remover to get them off. Great post!! xoxo

    • thank you, sarita!
      actually, scotch will peel off after soaking your hands in warm water for a couple minutes 😉 I prefer to peel the polish off rather than using their polish remover.
      haven’t tried RGB (think they’re not available here yet), will check it out – thank you! ❤

      • try this new brand from canada called “tuesday in love” it’s water-based and “peelable”

        • Thanks! I have checked out their website and it looked promising. However I haven’t found the full listing; and no entry in EWG’s Skindeep database. do you know the exact ingredients?

  14. Pingback: Carefree! (Lovely: nail art alternative and photo challenge mash-up) | BEAUTYCALYPSE >>> Beauty 2.0

  15. Pingback: So I bought the new & improved Scotch Naturals base coat… | BEAUTYCALYPSE >>> Beauty 2.0

  16. I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice
    blog like this one today.

    • well, thank you, dear! makes me very happy.

      re your question. it’s a free theme; I can define colours myself as well as choose between several, well-matching type fonts for headers. it helps to add custom side bar navigation simply by using the text widgets and some (very basic, really) html code. I’ve also defined my own signature picture size/format.

  17. Pingback: ABC: Finding a safe nailpolish remover | BEAUTYCALYPSE >>> Beauty 2.0

  18. Pingback: Tested: Korres 11-big-free nail polish | BEAUTYCALYPSE >>> Beauty 2.0

  19. Pingback: My Quest Log | BEAUTYCALYPSE >>> Beauty 2.0

  20. Pingback: Review: Scotch Naturals Nail Polish | BEAUTYCALYPSE >>> Beauty 2.0

  21. Thanks a lot! Looking pretty much forward to the next three topics especially the third one.