Nail Polish Guide

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Nail polish can be a sneaky hiding place for animal ingredients and harsh chemicals. I can't remember a time I bothered to look at the ingredients in nail polish before I started on my wellness journey.

Over the years have tried to shift my buying habits to cleaner products for my body, home & the environment because when I finally did clue in, it shocked me!

My favorite nail polish brands contained all kinds of awful things. Fish scales? Formaldehyde? Insect shells? 

At first, I felt like my mani/pedi days were over.

Luckily for me (and you!), there are lots of options that are vegan, cruelty-free, and free of many chemicals and toxins. These formulas will keep your insides feeling as good as your outsides.

It's easy to find nail polishes you can feel good about using. You just need to know what to look for - and what to avoid.

Vegan vs. Cruelty-Free

Contrary to popular belief, the terms "vegan" and "cruelty-free" aren't interchangeable. To ensure a product is 100% animal-friendly, you'll want to find products that list both.

Vegan refers to the ingredients in the product. A nail polish that's labeled "vegan" means there are no animal products in the polish itself. That means no beeswax, no fish scales, no insect shells, etc. However, a vegan product doesn't mean that animals aren't harmed in the process. A vegan-only nail polish may not contain animal products, but it may have been tested on animals.

Animal testing is a miserable and sometimes fatal process for the animal subjects.

During testing, cosmetic companies may rub cosmetics into animals' eyes and skin. Others may be forced to consume the product to determine toxicity. Regardless of the method, animal testing is cruel and unnecessary. To be sure that no animals were harmed to make your polish, make sure your products are both vegan and cruelty-free. One without the other has good intentions, but ultimately does not line up with vegan values.

3-, 5-, and 7-Free

I'll admit I never really gave nail polish ingredients much thought. I grew up painting my toes and nails with my mom and at birthday parties and sleepovers. For all I knew, the harsh fumes and discolored nails were just part of the process. Little did I know that every time I opened a bottle, I was exposing myself to toxins like DBP and formaldehyde.

It doesn't have to be so! Many nail polishes now carry a 3-, 5-, or 7- free, which denotes how many toxins have been removed from the polish. Many traditional polishes contain three chemicals that can be particularly harmful.

A 3-Free label means the polish is free of these toxins:

  • Dibutyl Phthalate, or DBP, is often added to plastics to make them flexible. According to the EPA, this can have side effects on development and reproduction.
  • Formaldehyde, which has been linked to cancers of the nasal cavity and blood.
  • Toluene, which is added to give the polish a smooth finish. Chronic exposure is linked to blood problems and kidney damage.

A 5-free polish is free of the "toxic trio", as well as:

  • Formaldehyde Resin which, like straight formaldehyde, is a known carcinogen.
  • Camphor, a scented substance which can cause nausea, dizziness, and headaches when inhaled in large doses.

A polish labeled 7-free is free from the previous five, as well as:

  • Ethyl Tosylamide, which is added to improve drying time. This can be absorbed by the body through the fingernails.
  • Xylene is added to many nail polishes and is usually responsible for the trademark strong odor. This ingredient can reduce the body's ability to detoxify.

While 3-, 5-, and 7-free polishes are all a step in the right direction, opt for 7-free polishes if you're able. This is very important if you're using nail polish with your children, or you get frequent manicures or pedicures. 

Check out this list of 40 Cruelty Free and Vegan Nail Polishes by the Ethical Elephant.

Do you have a favorite nail polish that is vegan & cruelty free? Please share with us in the comments below! 

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