Why You Should Go 5-Free, Plus the Best Brands & Their Shades
Forget your cheapie drugstore nail polishes and the brands found in your average nail salon, if you’re concerned about toxins in your skin and nail care, then you may consider using 5-free nail polishes.
These polishes are popular among the “I only buy organic but I love my painted nails” set because of what they don’t contain, specifically formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate and toluene, and the allergens camphor and formaldehyde resin.
Look on the bottle of drugstore polishes and you’ll likely see all 5 listed, but pay a bit extra (5-free polishes run from $9 on up to Chanel’s luxurious $27 bottles) and you can be assured you are primping your hands and feet with the safest polish possible.
In this slideshow, I list 14 polish brands that are guaranteed 5-free, but in the meantime, here’s what you should know about 3- and 5-free polishes.
How Dangerous are These Toxins?
Some people think because the polish sits atop the nails, that it shouldn’t matter what you put on them. However, it turns out that our nails are actually porous.
The toxins found in these ingredients come with all sorts of dire warnings if you research them. Formaldehyde can cause cancer (but only if you use loads of it over a long period of time — think people who straighten hair with it for a living), while Dibutyl phthalate is bad for the reproductive system and toluene can be harmful to unborn fetuses. Some of these ingredients are only bad for you if ingested, so you nail biters be aware.
That said, the real risks involved to the average woman who paints her nails and for her aesthetician is up for debate.
Nail polish in Europe is much more regulated than those made and sold in the United States. All nail polishes must at least be 3-free at the time of this writing. So — better safe than sorry? It’s up to you to decide.
The Difference Between 3-Free and 5-Free
Many nail polish brands, including the nail salon favorites Essie and OPI are 3-free, meaning they don’t contain possibly toxic ingredients. But 5-free polishes go even further and exclude camphor and formaldehyde resin from their products. These are known allergens and affect a likely small percentage of women who up until now could never polish their nails.
What does this mean for those of us not allergic to these products? It probably means you will be safe with 3-free products.
What’s So Bad About These Added 2 Ingredients?
Formaldehyde resin is a nail hardener (awesome!) that can cause contact dermatitis in those with allergies (not so awesome). As for camphor, it can cause problems when inhaled in large doses. While that might not be bad for you unless you are allergic and like to change up your polish daily, it could potentially be hazardous to people who paint toes and fingers for a living.
So let’s get started with my round-up of the best 5-free nail polish brands and the shades I love the most. I will be adding to this list as I come upon new brands.
For a year or more I kept a bottle of RGB Haze in a little drawer at my local nail salon. I loved the dark brown because it reminded me of my beloved You Don’t Know Jacques from OPI, but it was 5-free. In fact, I preferred the RGB shade to the OPI one. I kept the bottle of polish in a drawer at my local salon for convenience sake and my dear friend Olga loved the color so much she used my bottle on her salon visits, too.
And then it ran out and I’ve been too lazy to buy a new bottle or try out a different shade. The year-long affair with Haze ended and it was back to Jacques for me.
But I will say, RGB is great. And that $18 bottle of polish will last you (and a friend!) more than a year if you get pedicures once every week or 2 as we did.
Chanel is pure luxury and their shades are divine. Every time I come across a line of Chanel polishes, I want to buy them all up and paint a finger or toe in every color. But the bottles are pricey, pricier than everything else on my list, so I have never bought one. Maybe someday.
Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, $10
The opposite of Chanel, Obsessive Complusive is the bargain brand of the 5-free polishes at $10 a bottle. But that doesn’t mean their colors and their product isn’t exceptional. At the time of this writing, these polishes got 4 out of 5 stars on Sephora’s Website.
Jin Soon, $18
Jin Soon Choi is a celebrity manicurist and famous nail artist (she’s featured in my article, How to Keep Nail Polish From Chipping) who is renowned for her nail advice and services. So it’s no surprise that her nail polish collection, which debuted in 2020, would be as fabulous as she is.
Butter London, $15
Forget 5-free, cult nail brand Butter London is actually 7-free. The extra 2 ingredients left out include xylene and ethyl tosylamide.
In my research, I’ve found that Butter is beloved by some and is a constant disappointment to others. I recommend trying it out for yourself using a tester bottle.
Jamberry is like the Tupperware of nail polishes. You get invited to a party to shop for nail wraps and polishes and you get an awesome product and the hostess makes money off the sales.
While Jamberry is known for its nail wraps, they also have many flattering shades of nail lacquer, all of which are 5-free. (Pictured here is the “Chill Out Lacquer Set”). In fact, search for anything related to 5-free, and Jamberry is going to be mentioned by a fan or 2.
It seems the company has a legion of women out there who want to get the word out.
So if you get invited to a party, know that the polish is 5-free.
Deborah Lippmann, $18
If you want a great nail polish with a wonderful selection of colors and one that won’t chip immediately but dries fast and lasts a long time, you can’t beat Deborah Lippmann.
Plus, it’s 5-free. And all the colors are named after songs. Lippman, after all, is not only a nail guru, she’s a singer, too. Don’t miss this article, Deborah Lippmann Dishes on 15 Years in the Nail Polish Business from Fashionista.
Smith & Cult, $18
Ok, I just love these bottles. Dineh Mohajer, the creator of Hard Candy, is the founder of this relatively new nail brand, which gets great reviews from beauty bloggers and regular people alike. People love how long the color lasts without the expected chipping.
Named after the twin daughters of one of the founders, Ella+Mila is a new brand of affordable 5-free nail polish that includes a few “Mommy and Me” sets for, you guessed it, the mother and the daughter. Of course, there’s a bunch of gorgeous shades that having nothing to do with motherhood or childhood.
Bonus: These polishes are not tested on animals and are vegan.
Treat Collection, $18
Treat Collection is a Berlin-based nail company that is beloved in Europe and has finally made it stateside. Branded as “Berlin cool. Hollywood glam,” the collection comes in 54 gorgeous shades and the polishes are renowned for their lasting power.
Tenoverten is a Manhattan nail salon that is so popular they created their own line of 5-free nail polishes that get very good reviews online. And if you’re in Manhattan, you might stop by the salon. It’s quite luxurious.
Affordable with great shades, Zoya is a 5-free nail company that sells bottles for a whopping low price of $9. Zoya won the award as the longest wearing natural nail polish by an independent panel in Women’s Health Magazine and you’ll find it in many salons that boast their commitment to non-toxic polishes.
Bonus: There are over 300 gorgeous nail polish shades to choose from.
Priti NYC was founded by a woman after she was pregnant and made a conscious effort to consume and use only the most natural products she could find. She had a hard time with nail polishes, so created this 5-free company.
Of course, let’s be clear that no nail polish, 5-free or not, is natural. But this is as good as you’re going to get.
Luxury without the pretension, that’s how I think of Côte, an LA nail salon that caters to women who want their beauty products both cruelty-free and free of the 5 major toxins.
Check out their Website for their wonderful colors and buy online directly from them. The bottles are only $16 and there are more than 100 shades to choose from.