Have you ever wondered what it means to see “3-free” on the label of a nail polish bottle? It’s referring to a group of ingredients that are considered toxic and harmful: formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate. Many nail polish brands have stopped using these chemicals, so I’ll profile a few that are most well-known for what they don’t put in their polishes.
Quick background: Formaldehyde is classified as a known carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and as a likely carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA cites toluene as a toxic substance that can cause harm to the organs, and Dibutyl Phthalate (and phthalates in general) are the latest chemicals, that scientists say are likely to cause harm to the body.
Remember the way these toxic chemicals can cause the worst damage is through inhalation, so always do your nails in a well-ventilated area, with a window open if possible. Choose a nail salon with a fan and a good air circulation system.
(Related: The Most Luxe Nail Polish Brands)
1. Mineral Fusion
Free of: formaldehyde, toluene, camphor, and dibutyl phthalate.
A staple at stores like Whole Foods, Mineral Fusion is a stellar beauty brand with all types of high-performing products. Their mission is to use minerals and other natural ingredients while limiting toxic chemicals, which is why they are careful to omit the common ones above from their nail polishes. If you check out their line, you’ll be very surprised at the vast array of cool colors being offered–everything from trendy glitter shades to brights and unusual neutrals.
2. Butter LONDON
Free of: formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate.
This British brand has fantastic colors, known for attracting celebrity fans. They’re a bit pricier than the average nail polish, making them more of a splurge purchase (but for the nail polish fans out there, it’s worth it! After all, it’s still far more affordable than a new pair of shoes). Butter LONDON has been 3-free from the start, so it’s a line you can feel confident about if you’re interested in avoiding extra chemicals.
Free of: dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin.
This spa brand creates eco-friendly and vegan products–including their nail polishes. They are known for having a huge range of shades, including neutral and earthy tones, trendy, bold colors, and really cool glittery shades, too. SpaRitual releases new collections so frequently that you can find just about any color you’re craving in their roster.
Free of: toluene, camphor, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, dibutyl phthalate.
Founded by a husband and wife who owned their own salon and spa (the husband was a chemist, conveniently) the Zoya brand began when Zoya asked her husband to create various products to use at their place of business. Eventually, this led to the creation of a toxin-free natural nail polish, and the brand gained huge notoriety throughout the beauty industry as a result.
Free of: formadehyde, pthalates, and chemical solvents.
Acquarella is a unique brand that makes water-based, non-toxic nail polish. As such, it drives very quickly and actually helps keep nails hydrated instead of drying them out as many chemical-filled polishes can. If your nails are prone to dryness and chipping, or you’re looking for a safe product to use on kids, this is a great choice as it has no “fumes” and omits all known toxic chemicals.
6. Priti NYC
Free of: toluene, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor.
This New York City brand was created during founder Kim D’amato’s pregnancy. During this time, she was making all kinds of healthy efforts, like switching to organic foods and beauty products, but she noticed that she couldn’t seem to find certain beauty staples (like nail polish) that were truly non-toxic. So, D’amato launched Priti NYC in order to create a vegan, earth-friendly, non-toxic line of nail polish that’s good to you and the earth.
Makeup Expert & Manicurists, Contributing Editor
Jessica is a writer who feels it is a job requirement to own every shade of nail polish. She thinks any bad day can be improved by a trip to Sephora–provided there aren’t 10 people giving themselves makeovers, in front of the new lipsticks.