Reader question: Are there any chemical-free nail polishes that won’t harm my nails?

Revlon nail polish scented

Wow, GREAT question, “Pr”:

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.

Someone interviewed me the other week and one of the questions was: “If you could invent any beauty product, what would it be?” And gosh, I wish I’d remembered to say this. 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 300x300 Reader question: Are there any chemical free nail polishes that wont harm my nails?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 Reader question: Are there any chemical free nail polishes that wont harm my nails?Formaldehyde- and DBP-free: CND, NYX, Carolyn New York

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

lancome omyrose levernis poppetrol 145x300 Reader question: Are there any chemical free nail polishes that wont harm my nails?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).

sula polish Reader question: Are there any chemical free nail polishes that wont harm my nails?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.

As for “damaging” your nails—well, according to a naturopathic doctor I interviewed about this years ago, 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 kicking toxic butt (even though they don’t brag about it)?
Do you think they’re as diligent about what’s in their makeup? (If only, right?)



Lipschtick Blog
Friday, September 3/2010 at 4:50 pm

Oooh I’m impressed! This takes my Chanel obsession over the edge….


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, September 8/2010 at 2:51 pm

I know, right? Yay Chanel. :-)


Monday, September 6/2010 at 1:02 pm

I used revlons nail polish in revlon red on my toes and left them on for about two weeks now my toe nails look a bit yellow and i tried nail polish remover, salt water lemon nothings getting the yellow stain out. Im a bit worried now about whats in nail products..


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, September 8/2010 at 2:58 pm

Revlon polish is pretty indestructible! I find it lasts forever (so was surprised to see it place so well in the list above).

The yellowing is from the colour pigment – apparently some of the darker colours can cause a chemical reaction with the nail bed that results in the yellow stain. (Formaldehyde can also cause this, but Revlon doesn’t use it, so that wouldn’t be the cause here.) Did you use a base coat? That really helps prevent this problem.

Here’s something I found that might help with removing it:

Pour three capfuls of hydrogen peroxide into one-third cup of water and soak your fingers for two minutes. Then dip a toothbrush into the solution and brush your talons for a superclean finish. Next, massage both cuticles and nails with a cuticle oil that contains vitamin E. Wait two minutes, then completely remove the oil with a nonacetone polish remover.


Friday, August 1/2014 at 10:05 am

Sorry, Michelle, but I don’t think Revlon is placed right. I’m allergic to formaldehyde and also its resin, so I have to use the 4free nail polishes. I already try Revlon, OPI, China Glaze and they give me allergies! I’m okay with Dior and Nars and as I saw your list, I wanna try Chanel, Givenchy and MAC. I’m brazilian so it’s a bit expensive here but it’s worth it.



Wednesday, September 8/2010 at 7:37 am

I’m with Lipshtick Blog, my Chanel obsession can now be justified….sadly my fave OPI (regular) doesn’t make any list….ah well. Essie & China Glaze on the same list as Butter London, one would never guess. Pretty good marketing Butter.

Kat- it’s not toxic ingredients that leave a yellow tinge behind, just dyes. Always use a base coat, especially with darker/more intense colours. For the yellow you have now, a light buffing will remove it :)


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, September 8/2010 at 3:02 pm

Hmmm that can’t be right actually re: OPI. I’m almost 100% sure they removed at least some of the chemicals. Let me check with their PR people.

Glad you agree re: Essie, China Glaze, Butter London… it’s amazing what marketing will do!

Great tip for Kat re: buffing too. thanks!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, September 9/2010 at 5:09 pm

Hi Jane – just updated the post – OPI and Nicole by OPI are both 3-free (no formaldehyde, toluene or DBP). Sorry for for the confusion… serves me right for getting this info secondhand! (was my attempt to cut down on research time for all these different brands…)

So you don’t need to ditch your OPI – whew!


Sunday, September 12/2010 at 8:42 pm

Michelle- Thanks so much for looking into that! Don’t know what I’d do without OPI!

*stares happily at my Tickle My France-y mani*


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, September 13/2010 at 1:24 pm

Me neither! :-)


Monday, October 25/2010 at 10:03 pm

Here’s another one for your list… Zoya Nail Polish and Treatments are free of formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and camphor. Our long-wearing formula is available in over 300 shades. Check it out.
Zoya Nail Polish


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, October 26/2010 at 6:19 pm

Yes, Zoya’s already on the list Erin!


Friday, November 26/2010 at 5:48 pm

Michelle, you need to check out cheeky monkey nail polish – 3 free and Canadian to boot. I was at a home party a few weeks ago and they have great names, colours and attitude!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, November 29/2010 at 8:08 pm

Ooh cute brand! Thanks Lisa!


Saturday, March 19/2011 at 7:25 pm

*facepalm*… I really should have checked out MAC polishes before trading them in for the recycling program. I thought they were worse than OPI and Essie so I got rid of a good 18 polishes, only to find out that they’re actually (a bit) BETTER than those two lines! Augh, I least I kept my favourites… and MAC polishes do separate pretty badly. I couldn’t even revive a good number of them. Another consolation: Chanel is even better than MAC so I will happily purchase a bottle of Le Vernis – or two. ;-)


Wednesday, October 26/2011 at 11:35 pm

This article was a huge help for me. I’m extremely allergic to OPI, Essie ,the polishes you find in most salons. My eyelids burn from the inside out, and it only takes a few hours to get into my bloused stream and I’m a burn victim. Heard about zoya and it saved my obsession with all the amazing colors I wanted to wear but couldn’t. Just learned of butter and even called their iffiness to discuss ingredients. Very disappointed to see they’re on same list as OPI and essie. Bought a bottle to try but I’ll take your word for it and stick with zoya. One question: is it the camphor that makes the difference between zoya and butter? Or is it the form resin? Any info would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


M Fuentes
Tuesday, January 31/2012 at 9:31 pm

I found a brand,

They say the polish is waterbased and toxin free. Colors don’t look as good as Butter but it was formulated by doctors and they are pretty reasonable. Have you heard about this company?


Thursday, May 17/2012 at 11:34 am

Actually Revlon polish does have formaldehyde. I just ordered two bottles of the color stay and both have it listed on the bottle as an ingredient. :-(


Saturday, June 1/2013 at 8:51 am

Perhaps it’s only the the Revlon nail enamel colours are formaldehyde free…


Isabel Peña
Thursday, October 4/2012 at 9:50 am

More than a comment I would like to ask you something. I discovered a Dutch brand called KOH that has wonderful nail polishes. Reading your fantastic article I was wondering if any of you knows it and if it is 3 toxic free.
Thanks in advance! here is their website


Monday, October 28/2013 at 4:46 pm

Hi ladies i just recently found out i am allergic to formaldehyde resin and im sad to say it is listed as an ingredient in OPI nail polishes.. iv had to throw mine out :(

Are chanel and dior definitely formaldehyde resin free?

Thanks :)


Friday, July 25/2014 at 7:30 pm

I’m allergic to OPI and Revlon as well, must be the formaldehyde resin. I use Nars and it was great, no allergies, now I’m gonna try Dior.


Monday, January 6/2014 at 1:29 pm

A word on longevity — I’ve found that the water-based nail polishes (Acquarella specifically) actually last *much* longer than the traditional nail polishes (Revlon specifically) if you apply them exactly as instructed — i.e. first cleaning your nails completely, patting them dry, then wiping them down thoroughly with their matching (water-based) nail polish remover, letting them air-dry completely and then applying the water-based nail polish directly after that. Honestly I went two and a half weeks without any chipping/peeling whatsoever after that. The annoying part was getting it off! (Took about half an hour and a lot of their remover). Maybe give the bottom of the list another try again;)?


Saturday, January 18/2014 at 4:31 pm

Hi Michelle,
Have you verified that the Canadian formulations for Revlon are 3-free? I noticed that on the us website they make that claim but not the Canadian one.
Have my fingers crossed – Revlon is my go-to brand for polish.
Thanks! xo


Sunday, February 23/2014 at 4:46 pm

What about Maybelline?


Sunday, August 31/2014 at 1:49 pm

I just happened across your article because I’ve only used Clinique and just bought a Butter and am having problems with it. So was just researching it am surprised to see your results. I’m hoping everything is still current because I am going to look into that second to last category. Can you let me know any additional information you have found? Where would Clinique fit in with the new line that has been out just in the last few years? Their initial polishes (many years ago) were terrible and were taken off the market–they only lasted one day before peeling and chipping. The newer line lasts two weeks on my toes, at least. I am ultra sensitive to chemicals and really have a problem with most polishes, so will look forward to your suggestions.


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