Let’s be honest, natural and organic beauty doesn’t quite go hand in hand with nail polish. Nail polish has arguably some of the most toxic and harmful ingredients when it comes to beauty products. Enter: the world of “free-from” and “nontoxic” nail polish. In this guide I’ll be breaking down what ingredients in typical nail polish are potentially harmful, what chemicals are removed from 3-free, 5-free and 10-free nail polishes to make them a little less toxic, and sharing 4 of the best nontoxic nail polish brands available in the UK.
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In this post:
Does nontoxic nail polish exist?
I’ll start with a preface that when I say nontoxic nail polish, what I really mean in context here is less toxic nail polish. Almost all nail polishes are formulated with polymers and solvents (that’s what gives it the smell, although there are a few water-based polishes out there – a blog post coming another day). There’s really no such thing as completely nontoxic natural nail polish (unless you’re rubbing beetroot to stain on your nails, let’s be real)! Ultimately you want nail polish with lower chemicals for a healthier manicure.
Related reading: Toxic Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid in Your Beauty Products
It’s easy to get caught up in the purist mentality when you’re switching out your beauty products to natural and organic alternatives, but I always like to come back to the 80/20 rule. Sometimes you just gotta pick your battles and if you want some colour on your nails for an occasion every now and then, it’s undeniable there are some better choices available! It’s the brands formulated with fewer suspect chemicals and more benign ingredients that you’re looking for.
Decoding free-from nail polish
Navigating buying nail polish can be totally confusing with all the marketing terms thrown around. Be wary of buying a nail polish just because it claims to be “XX-free”, nontoxic or toxic-free as it can be misleading. There’s no set universal definition of these terms and some brands might even include innocuous ingredients in their “free-from” list, simply to make it sound like the product is cleaner than it is (greenwashing). They may state ingredients that aren’t usually included in nail polish anyway, or ingredients that are already banned in the EU.
So what does 3-free, 5-free and even 10-free nail polish really mean?
What is 3-free nail polish?
At first there was a huge marketing frenzy for 3-free nail polish, excluding the following ingredients:
- Formaldehyde (a known class 1 carcinogen – sufficient evidence to cause cancer in humans)
- Toluene (links to contact dermatitis, CNS effects eg headaches/dizziness, endocrine hormone disruptive and potential carcinogen)
- DBP (dibutyl phthalate) (links to contact dermatitis and reproductive toxicity)
What is 5-free nail polish?
5-free nail polish takes away the following ingredients: formaldehyde, toluene, DBP plus
- Formaldehyde resin (links to contact dermatitis)
- Camphor (links to contact dermatitis, nausea, endocrine disruptor)
What is 7-free nail polish?
Taking it up another notch, there’s 7-free nail polish which removes not only formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formadehyde resin, camphor, but also:
- Xylene (Classed as an endocrine disruptor, linked to effects on immune, metabolic, respiratory and reproductive functions)
- Ethyl Tosylamide (antibiotic properties and concern about antibiotic resistance)
What is 10-free nail polish?
Finally, 10-free (and more!) which excludes all of the above ingredients (formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor, xylene, ethyl tosylamide) plus they may exclude a variety of ingredients such as:
- Phosphates e.g. Triphenylphosphate TPhP (endocrine hormone and fertility disrupting)
- Parabens (suspected endocrine hormone disrtuptor)
- Benzophenones (irritant, endocrine hormone disruptor)
- Hydroquinones (links to genetic abnormalities and can depigment the skin)
- Synthetic fragrance
- Haloorganic Compounds
- Bisphenol A (BPA)
- Mineral oils/waxes
- Animal derivatives
Why you should use nontoxic nail polish
Effects of many of these ingredients may be cumulative, so the more frequently you get a manicure or paint your nails at home could impact the toxic effects of using nail polish. Studies have shown ingredients can absorb through nails. Although it’s not clear how much is absorbed, a Duke University study found TPhP in urine 10-14 hours after painting nails at x7 concentration. A common theory is that solvents enhance absorption of chemicals through the skin, so solvent-free water-based options could be the best choice (stay tuned for water-based options in another blog post).
If you’re painting your nails, even with one of the less toxic options, always make sure you do it in a well-ventilated area to reduce inhalation of the chemicals too. They’re still solvent-based after all so smell much the same as conventional nail polish, unfortunately!
The best nontoxic nail polish brands
To compile this list, I searched for nail polish brands that market themselves as being more natural, nontoxic and at least “10+ free”. I specifically looked for brands free from Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde derivatives, Camphor, Ethyl Tosylamide, Xylene, TPhP, Parabens and Benzophenones. After scouring through ingredients lists of over 20 brands for the ones with the least concerning ingredients, the final list is narrowed down to just 4 of the best nontoxic nail polish brands (aka less toxic nail polish brands) available in the UK in 2024.
Kure Bazaar impressively uses up to 90% natural-based ingredients, from wood pulp, wheat, cotton, potatoes and corn and enriched with extracts from Bamboo and Vitamin E. Most recent formulations from Kure Bazaar are marketed as 12-free, without Toluene, Formaldehyde, Dibutyl-pthalate, Synthetic Camphor, TPHP, Parabens, Xylene, Styrene, Benzophenone-1-3.
There’s a great range of colours available, from traditional to vibrant fashion shades too.
For application, the square cap pulls off revealing your standard round cap, which helps with better control of the brush. I find that two coats gives flawless coverage and the formula dries quickly with a shiny finish. Without using a base/top coat, I usually notice a few tiny chips after the first day or two, but it does last much longer if you aren’t lazy like me and take the time to use base and top coat!
The downside? This nail polish does come in at a more luxury price point of £16 a bottle.
best for luxury
Kure Bazaar – £16
TL;DR: 12-free, up to 90% plant-based ingredients.
Pros: easy to apply, flawless in 2 coats, quick dry, shiny finish
Cons: luxe price point, usual nail polish smell, need base/top coat for extra longevity
NailKind polishes are made with up to 85% bio-sourced ingredients including potato, corn and wheat. Their nail polish is free from phthalates, including DBP, toluene, Camphor, Xylene, ethyl tosylamide and triphenyl phosphate, formaldehyde and gluten. Their mineral and plant-based nail polish line is vegan, cruelty-free (approved by PETA) and Halal certified.
I love the luxe, thick, gently tapered shaped brush which makes for easy application with no streaks in sight. All the shades I’ve tried are highly pigmented and almost fully opaque in just one coat, although I usually stick with two coats for extra longevity and a glossy finish.
The formula is fast drying with relatively decent lasting power on my nails at around 2-3 days before any signs of chipping or wear at the tips.
NailKind’s colourful shade range is one of the things that makes it stand out from the rest. The intense colours are creative and on-trend, alongside classic and more nude hues too so there’s really a shade for everyone!
best colour range
NailKind – £8.95
TL;DR: up to 85% bio-sourced ingredients, Vegan & Halal.
Pros: luxe brush, easy to apply, quick dry, great colour range, affordable.
Cons: none bar the usual nail polish smell
Nails.INC Plant Power Vegan Nail Polish
The most surprising find for me on this search was discovering Nails Inc Plant Power range, which is 73% Plant Based, as well as vegan and cruelty free. Unlike Nails.INC standard range, the Plant Power nail polish is marketed as 21-free for a cleaner manicure, formulated without animal derivatives, synthetic fragrance, formaldehyde, acetone, parabens and more.
For the Plant Power collection, Nails.INC have used a recyclable and sustainable eco-friendly 100% FSC beech wooden cap, instead of plastic.
This nail polish has a wider brush than most other nail polish brands and it’s also flat with a rounded tip which makes for easy application. The colour is almost opaque in 2 coats which you can easily get away with, although I personally think it looks best with 3 coats. It’s not the quickest drying though so it takes a little longer to wait between coats.
As for the finish, you can sometimes see some subtle brush strokes, but I’m just nitpicking here as realistically no one except you is going to be looking at your nails that closely to notice!
Nails.INC Plant Power nail polish definitely lives up to its long wearing claim and champions this list for longevity. I never have any problems with chipping, even without a base/top coat. I usually get to day 4 or 5 before noticing some slight wear at the tips.
One thing to be aware of is some shades in the Plant Power range contain the ingredient Octocrylene, which you may prefer to avoid. Although this nail polish has more synthetic ingredients than the other brands mentioned on this list, if you need your manicure to last longer, this is the best option for a lower toxin nail polish.
best for longevity
Nails.INC Plant Power – £9
TL;DR: 21-free, 73% plant-based ingredients, Vegan & Halal.
Pros: easy to apply, long-wearing without base/top coat, affordable
Cons: not the quickest drying, subtle brush strokes visible, some shades contain octocrylene, the usual nail polish smell
Earthy Nail Polish
Earthy nail polish is marketed as 21-free, without Touene, Xylene, Phthalates DBP, Phthalate DPHP, Formaldehydye, Formaldeyde releasers, Tosylamide, Triphrnyl Phospate (TPP), Camphor, Ethyl Tosylamide, Tert-Butyl Hydrpperoxyde, Glycol Ether of series E, Hydroquinone (HQ), 4-Methoxyphenol (MEHQ), Silicone, Bisphenol A, Parabens, Phenoxyethanol, Methylisothiazoline(MIT), Triclosan, Animal derived ingredients, Gluten.
The formula is leaping bunny, cruelty free approved and certified vegan, as well as plant based with Cassava, Corn and Sugar Cane (79% of ingredients from natural origin). It also contains Magnesium and Calcium to improve the condition of your nails. From a sustainability standpoint, a bamboo cap replaces single use plastic, along with a 100% PCR seal.
As for the nail polish itself, when it comes to application the brush is just your basic straight brush which makes it slightly more of a chore to apply compared with the other brands in this guide. You can also see some subtle brush strokes on the nails, but not noticeable to others from a distance. In the shades I’ve tried, this nail polish is almost fully opaque in 2 coats. You can totally get away with leaving it at 2 coats, but the perfectionist in me often goes for 3 coats (not too much of an issue as it dries quickly).
In terms of longevity, when using just the nail polish alone I find it chips very quickly on my nails (like within a day) so I recommend using a base/top coat to get an extra few days wear. I’ve ranked Earthy nail polish as best for budget as they have the lowest price point in this guide.
best for budget
Earthy Nail Polish – £7.99
TL;DR: 21-free, 79% natural origin, Vegan
Pros: affordable, quick dry, sustainable bamboo cap
Cons: subtle brush strokes visible, usual nail polish smell, need base/top coat for extra longevity