How to Select Non-Toxic Nail Polish + 11 Nail Polish Brands

November 13, 2023

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non-toxic nail polish

I find that adding a splash of nail polish is the perfect final touch to any look. From hot pink to jet black and even the sheer shine of clear polish, I love them all. But have you ever paused to wonder what’s in that bottle of color you’re swiping over your nails? And what do terms like ‘3-Free’ really signify in the world of non-toxic nail polish? Let’s peel back the layers and take a closer look.

The Toxic Trio In Nailpolish

When browsing nail polish brands, you might notice some proudly proclaiming their formulas are free from three specific chemicals: toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate (DnBP). But why these three? 

In the early 2000s, concerns about these ingredients surged primarily due to findings from animal studies. Dibutyl phthalate (DnBP) was pinpointed as a reproductive and developmental toxicant. Adding to the concern, a U.S. study in 2000 revealed that women of reproductive age were exposed to significantly higher levels of DnBP compared to other demographic groups

Dibutyl phthalate (DnBP), which is often used to make plastics softer and more flexible, is used in nail polish to enhance a polish’s texture and function. Unfortunately, this same ingredient has also been linked to potential reproductive and developmental problems.

Toluene, is a clear, colorless liquid with a distinctive smell often used to make paint, paint thinners, and fingernail polish. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSRD), toluene is a “good solvent, i.e., a substance that can dissolve other substances.” The concern? Toluene may affect your nervous system (brain and nerves). You can also experience temporary nervous system effects such as headaches, dizziness, or unconsciousness.

Formaldehyde, similar to toluene, is a colorless, flammable gas that has a distinct, strong smell. In low doses, shares ATSRD, breathing in formaldehyde can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation. 

These chemicals have also been implicated in causing allergic contact dermatitis, as noted by Harvard Health

Due to the health concerns linked to these three chemicals, by 2006, more and more nail polish brands started labeling themselves as “3-Free” — free of the “toxic-trio”— toluene, formaldehyde, and DnBP.

The Dilemma of Regrettable Substitution

But what happens when one harmful ingredient is replaced with another potentially toxic one? This phenomenon, known as ‘regrettable substitution,’ occurs when a replaced toxic chemical is later found to be harmful as well. 

A prime example in nail polishes is the replacement of DnBP with triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), a chemical used to make nail polish more flexible and durable, which was initially thought to be safer. However, TPHP, typically used as a flame retardant or plasticizer, has recently regrettably been identified as an endocrine disruptor that can adversely affect thyroid function and reproductive health in humans.

This revelation has prompted brands to evolve further, now offering products labeled as “10-Free” or higher. This means they’re not only free from the toxic trio but also free of TPHP and other concerning substances like camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, acetone, and tert-butyl hydroperoxide. 

The number of omitted chemicals determines the label, with brands boasting “5-free,” “7-free,” and even “14-free” options, reflecting their commitment to safer nail care products.

Is nail polish actually toxic?

This is an important question. Harvard Health notes that while chemicals in nail polish can enter the body, the extent of absorption and its potential health effects are not fully determined.

However, a study conducted by researchers at Duke University and Environmental Working Group (EWG) brings this issue into sharper focus. In their research, every participant, out of two dozen women, showed a significant presence of a metabolite of triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) in their system just 10 to 14 hours post-manicure. “Their levels of diphenyl phosphate or DPHP, which forms when the body metabolizes TPHP,” the study reported, “had increased by nearly sevenfold.” That’s not a good thing! 

Heather Stapleton, Ph.D., an associate professor at Duke University and the study’s lead researcher, emphasizes the need for further research to understand the exposure levels that consumers are receiving. The EWG also warns of growing evidence that TPHP could disrupt hormone regulation, metabolism, and reproductive and developmental health.

The EWG also warns that “there is growing evidence suggesting that TPHP may affect hormone regulation, metabolism, reproduction, and development.”

Who’s most at risk?

Nail salon workers face the greatest exposure to these chemicals. Constantly exposed to various chemicals in nail products, from glues to polishes and removers, they face a heightened likelihood of adverse health outcomes. These can range from respiratory issues like asthma to skin disorders (e.g., allergic contact dermatitis), liver disease, reproductive loss, and even cancer,” as reported by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Now What?

If you’re concerned about the toxicity of the ingredients found in your nail polish, there are a few solutions.

If you’re worried about nail polish toxicity, consider reducing usage or switching to safer brands. I personally opt for “8-free” or higher brands to minimize exposure to harmful chemicals such as TPHP. 

For those seeking safer alternatives but unsure where to start, I’ve compiled a list of non-toxic nail polish brands. These brands stand out not only for avoiding the chemicals commonly found in traditional nail polishes but also for their transparency regarding their ingredients.

Tip: Did you know you can recycle your nail polish with Chemwise? Click here for more info!

Non-Toxic Nail Polish Brands


Tenoverten is a woman-owned, 8-free, cruelty-free, and vegan nail polish brand founded in New York City. This brand offers classic colors ranging from pinks and reds to blues and beiges. The brand offers classic shades from pinks and reds to blues and beiges, each named after New York City streets. Their polishes exclude harmful chemicals like dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, formaldehyde, and more.

Tenoverten has also partnered with Chemwise to recycle both leftover nail polish and the packaging’s glass, plastic caps, and brushes. If you live in New York City, you can bring your old nail polish bottles to their local salons, and they’ll recycle them for you!

Price: $12

Butter London 

Butter London is a 10-free, vegan, cruelty-free, and gluten-free nail polish brand that offers a variety of colors ranging from purple sparkles to soft pink. According to their website, their Jelly Nail Strengtheners help to repair damaged nails from harsh nail formulas as they contain ingredients such as tea tree oil and bamboo extract.

Products: Nail Care Treatment, Jelly Nail Strengtheners, Patent Shine Lacquer, Peel-Off Glitter, DIY Gel Nails

Price: $18


Côte polishes are vegan, cruelty-free, and free of the major toxins often associated with nail polish. Their polishes contain no formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, camphor, formaldehyde resin, and triphenyl phosphate (TPHP). Proudly made in the United States, Côte polishes come in bottles crafted from Italian glass, featuring top-of-the-line brushes for even strokes and precise application.

Côte recently launched Côte Cares, an initiative that gives back to various causes near and dear to their hearts. They specially selected six colors and paired each with a social or environmental cause, such as Habits of Waste and the Trevor Project.

Price: $18


Founded by Amy Lin in New York City, sundays is a ten-free, cruelty-free, vegan nail polish brand. Amy believed so strongly in creating a toxic-free product that she spent over a year working with a chemist to develop and research the perfect nail polish formula. Sundays also offer a soy-based nail polish remover, cuticle serum, candles, and other accessories.

Price: $18

Deborah Lippmann

Deborah Lippmann nail polish is a 10-free nail polish brand created by celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippmann. With a wide variety of colors ranging from shimmering lilac to sheer blue, you’re sure to find a color for every occasion.

Price: $20


Habit nail polish actively excludes harmful chemicals like toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, TPP, DBP, isobutylphenoxy epoxy resin, xylene, and parabens from its formula. This BIPOC-owned brand also emphasizes sustainable packaging, featuring a removable bamboo cap, recycled plastic inner cap and brush, and FSC-certified paperboard boxes.

Price: $18


Founded by Jin Soon Choi, this 10-free nail polish brand is formulated with high-tech polymers and resins that ensure long wear and a shiny finish. JINSoon offers a wide variety of unique and bold colors.

Price: $18

Rooted Woman

This Black-owned non-toxic nail polish brand is not only handmade in small batches in the U.S. but is 10-free and vegan. India D. Williams founded Rooted Woman out of her desire to create and promote radical self-care for women. Locally made in the U.S., a portion of all proceeds are donated annually to organizations that empower women of all ages.

Price: $15

Piggy Paint

Known for being virtually odorless and free of harsh chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene, phthalates, Bisphenol A, ethyl acetate, and acetone, this water-based nail polish is a great alternative to use with kids.

Price: $8


Developed by Board Certified Podiatric Surgeon Dr. Cary Gannon, Aila nail polishes are ethically sourced, cruelty-free, and free of harsh chemicals. The brand’s formula omits common toxins like parabens, sulfates, formaldehyde, and more. Additionally, sales from their ‘Five Senses’ color contribute to the  Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation.

Price: $14

Pear Nova

This Black-owned luxury beauty brand, founded by Rachel James, is designed in Chicago, made in the USA, cruelty-free, vegan friendly, and 10-free. Products include gel and classic lacquer and come in various unique and milky colors.

Price: $13.50 (classic lacquer), $20.50 (gel lacquer)

  • 10-free (10+ Free, vegan, cruelty-free. Price: $18)
  • Auda Beauty (10-Free, BIPOC-owned, vegan, cruelty-free. Price: $18)
  • Bruekeln Polished (11-free, BIPOC-owned, vegan, cruelty-free. Price: $11)
  • LVX (10-free, vegan, cruelty-free. Price: $18)
  • Londontown Lakur (16+ Free, vegan, cruelty-free. Price: $16)
  • Mischo Beauty (10-Free, BIPOC-owned, vegan, cruelty-free. Price: $20)
  • Oroso (14-free, vegan, cruelty-free, gluten-free. Price: $12)
  • La Pierre  (10-free, BIPOC-owned, vegan, cruelty-free. Price: $15)
  • Suite 11 (10-free, BIPOC-owned, vegan, and PETA-certified. Price: $13)
  • Lisa Nail Lacquer (10-free, cruelty-free, vegan. Price $8)
  • People of Color (10-free, vegan, cruelty-free. Price: $12)

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