What are the Best Chemical-Free Nail Polishes?

Your best 3-Free options.
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Michelle Villett
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Your best 3-Free options.
(Photo: fashionmagazine.com)

(Photo: fashionmagazine.com)

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Q: Hi, are there any nail polishes that are actually good for your nails and wont harm them, I really want something free of chemicals that wont harm my nails. — Pr

A: It would be FABULOUS to have a nail polish sans chemicals that actually strengthened and conditioned your nails, and performed as well as its mainstream counterparts...

I just don't think there is anything on the market right now that ticks off all those boxes. Chances are, you're going to have to sacrifice performance and longevity.

But! Before we get into that—let's quickly review the chemicals commonly found in nail polish (and why you may want to avoid them).

Butter London 3 Free Nail Polish.

Butter London 3 Free Nail Polish.

You may have read the words "3-Free" on the label of some polishes (Butter London, for example, is big on this). Well, that means they don't contain these guys:

1. Formaldehyde: This is actually only found in hardening products, not polishes—but the sneaky marketing people still like to boast that their polish formulas don't contain it! Duh. Anyway, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, it's "a known human carcinogen. It is also an irritant to the eyes, nose and throat, and can lead to skin irritation and an allergic rash called dermatitis."

2. DBP (Dibutyl Phthalate): This is a plasticizer that makes the polish more flexible in order to stop it from chipping and cracking. According to the CSC: "DBP is a reproductive and developmental toxin that has been linked to feminizing effects in baby boys."

3. Toluene: This chemical makes the polish easy to apply (i.e. go on smoothly). The CSC says: "It... affects the central nervous system and can cause headaches, dizziness and fatigue. Toluene is a possible reproductive and developmental toxin."

Other potential baddies:

Formaldehyde resin: It helps the polish adhere to the nail. Not the same as formaldehyde (the chemical process to create the resin changes it) but some people are allergic.

Camphor: Another plasticizer (like DBP). Some people find it irritating.

Ethyl acetate: A solvent in which the pigments and other ingredients are suspended, and which evaporates, leaving behind the colour (it's responsible for the nail polish smell). It can also be irritating.

Now, as for the polishes out there—surprisingly, some of the brands that market themselves as "less toxic" (ahem...Butter London!) have been outdone by brands which you'd never guess would have fewer chemicals. (Well done, luxury brands! Yet another reason to heart you.)

Thanks to All Lacquered Up for this list, which goes from "most" to "least" toxic:

deborah-lippmann-nail-polish

3-Free: Butter London, Calvin Klein, China Glaze (black label), Color Club, Essie, Finger Paints, Hard Candy, Illamasqua, Maybelline New York Express Finish, Maybelline New York Salon Expert, Nicole by OPI, OPI and Sally Hansen Salon

3-Free, No Formaldehyde Resin: M.A.C, Milani, N.Y.C. Long Wearing, Nailtini (except Vodka), NARS, Nocti, Orly, PeaceKeeper, Pop Beauty Nail Glam, Rescue Beauty Lounge, SpaRitual and Wet n’ Wild

3-Free, No Formaldehyde Resin, No Camphor: Chanel, Dashing Diva, Dior, Estée Lauder, Givenchy, Lancôme, Deborah Lippmann, L'Oréal Paris, No-Miss, Nubar, NYC In A New York Color Minute, Revlon, Rimmel London 60 Seconds, Sally Hansen Insta-Dri, Sante, Shades by Barielle, Shu Uemura, Sinful Colors and Zoya

Water-based, 3-Free, No Formaldehyde Resin, No Camphor, No Ethyl Acetate: Acquarella, Honeybee Gardens, Sula and Suncoat

So now what?

My advice would be, if you're concerned about this, to go with products from the second-to-last category. Although they're not 100 percent natural, you're going to get excellent quality with as few chemicals as possible. Make sure you also apply them in a well-ventilated area so you don't breathe in the chemicals (it's a good idea to do it outside or with a window open).

I've tried a couple of the water-based formulas (Suncoat and Sula) and just wasn't able to add them to my polish rotation because the application was too annoying and they chipped/peeled off like crazy. But if you're more committed, they MAY work for you.

sula_polish

As for damaging your nails—well, according to a naturopathic doctor I interviewed, unless you're breathing in the chemicals they're not really harmful because your nails don't absorb them (they're dead). But yes, nail polishes and nail polish removers can be very drying. So make sure to dial it up on the cuticle creams and hand lotions!

So tell me...

Are you concerned about chemicals in your nail polish?
Were you as surprised as I was to see Chanel, Dior and Givenchy going 3-free (even though they don't brag about it)?
Do you think they're as diligent about what's in their makeup? (If only, right?)