Going Green With Nails: Eco-Friendly Polish Picks

Nail polish has long been a staple in beauty routines for its ability to add flair and creativity to fingernails. However, traditional nail polishes often contain concerning ingredients like formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). With growing awareness around “clean beauty” and the toxicity of chemicals, eco-friendly nail polish has emerged as a safer, more sustainable option.

Eco-friendly nail polishes are formulated without harsh chemicals and made with natural, non-toxic ingredients. Using these plant-based polishes benefits both your health and the environment. Exposure to the toxic trio of formaldehyde, toluene and DBP has been linked to issues like respiratory problems, hormone disruption, and cancer risk. By swapping to non-toxic nail lacquers, you avoid exposure to these hazardous ingredients.

Beyond personal health advantages, eco-friendly polishes also have less impact on the planet. Many mainstream polishes rely heavily on plastic glitter and use chemicals that get released into waterways. But natural nail polish skips all that pollution. This allows you to get beautiful nails in a way that’s gentler on the earth.

In this guide, we’ll cover the leading eco-friendly nail polish brands, including their key benefits, formulations, and shade options. We’ll also provide tips for easy, non-toxic application and removal. Let’s dive into the wonderful world of green nail lacquer!

a woman painting her nails with eco-friendly nail polish

Toxic Ingredients in Traditional Nail Polish

Many traditional nail polishes contain concerning ingredients like triphenyl phosphate, toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). These chemicals are added to nail polish for various purposes like extending wear time or glossiness, but they can pose health risks with repeated exposure.

Triphenyl phosphate is a plasticizer used to increase flexibility and durability of the polish. However, it’s been identified as an endocrine disruptor that can mimic estrogen in the body (1).

Toluene is added to polish to help create an even application and smooth finish. But it’s classified as a neurotoxin and linked to issues like headaches, dizziness, and heart palpitations when inhaled (2).

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin act as hardeners and preservatives to extend the shelf life of polish. Both are known human carcinogens and can cause allergic reactions with skin contact (3).

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) helps prevent chipping and makes colors pop. However, it’s considered an endocrine disruptor and developmental toxin. Studies link it to issues like birth defects and asthma (1).

(1) https://www.nontoxicrevolution.org/blog/2019/6/12/non-toxic-nail-polish
(2) https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/a-look-at-the-effects-of-nail-polish-on-nail-health-and-safety-2019112118231
(3) https://www.pritinyc.com/10-Nail-Polish-Toxic-Ingredients-You-Must-Avoid_b_4.html

Health Risks of Chemical Exposure

Traditional nail polish contains chemicals that can be harmful to human health. Three of the most concerning chemicals are:

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP): DBP is an endocrine disruptor that can interfere with hormone function and reproduction. Studies have linked it to developmental and reproductive problems (source).

Formaldehyde: Exposure to formaldehyde has been associated with cancer. Although the amounts in nail polish are low, repeated exposure over time may increase risk (source).

Toluene: Toluene is toxic to the immune and respiratory systems. It can also negatively impact fetal development and fertility (source).

These chemicals can be absorbed through nails and skin or inhaled as fumes. Although more research is needed, avoiding them eliminates any potential risks.

Environmental Impact

Traditional nail polish contains many harmful chemicals that can have a detrimental effect on the environment. When nail polish is washed down the drain, the ingredients don’t fully break down and can contaminate groundwater and pollute waterways.

Some of the most concerning ingredients from an environmental standpoint are toluene, formaldehyde, and phthalates. Toluene is a solvent used in nail polish that is toxic to aquatic life. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that persists in the environment. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors and have been shown to harm fish and other wildlife.

A study by the University of North Carolina found traces of toluene, formaldehyde and other nail polish ingredients in groundwater near salons. These chemicals can seep into soil and contaminate groundwater supplies (source). Another concern is the amount of plastic waste generated by traditional polishes. The bottles are usually not recyclable and end up in landfills.

Using eco-friendly natural nail polish with non-toxic ingredients is an important way to reduce the environmental impact of nail care. Opting for polishes free of the most harmful chemicals keeps them from polluting waterways and poisoning wildlife when washed down drains.

What Makes Nail Polish Eco-Friendly

Eco-friendly nail polishes are formulated to be non-toxic and safe for human health as well as the environment. Many mainstream nail polishes contain harsh chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene, and phthalates that can have harmful effects. Eco-friendly polishes use ingredients that are less toxic.

The main features that make nail polish eco-friendly include:

  • Water-based formulas – These don’t require toxic solvents.
  • “Free of” formulas like 5-free, 7-free, 9-free – These are free of 5+ harsh chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, and camphor.
  • Vegan formulas – These avoid animal ingredients like keratin.
  • Natural ingredients – These use plant-derived pigments and waxes.
  • Non-toxic – Avoid exposure to concerning chemicals.
  • Eco-friendly packaging – Uses recycled and recyclable materials.

By avoiding certain harsh additives and using more natural, plant-derived ingredients, eco-friendly nail polishes are better for human and environmental health.

Benefits of Eco-Friendly Polish

Going with eco-friendly nail polish options offers important benefits for both the user and environment. Some key advantages include:

Less Exposure to Harmful Chemicals

Traditional nail polishes can contain ingredients like formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and other chemicals that have been linked to health issues with prolonged exposure. Eco-friendly polishes avoid these dangerous compounds and instead use safer alternatives made from natural ingredients.

According to The Good Life with Amy French, “Eco-friendly nail polishes are free from toxic ingredients such as formaldehyde, toluene, and DBP, making them safer for our health.”

Environmentally Sustainable

In addition to being safer for the person using them, eco-friendly nail polishes are better for the environment. Many are vegan and cruelty-free as well. Sienna Naturals explains that going green with nail polish ensures, “your polish is free from chemicals, producing fewer waste materials.”

Eco-friendly polishes avoid ingredients that are harsh pollutants and use biodegradable formulas. This makes them much more sustainable than traditional options.

Top Eco-Friendly Brands

There are several top nail polish brands leading the way in eco-friendly formulas. Here’s an overview of 5 of the most popular options:


Habit nail polishes are 9-free, meaning they are formulated without common toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene, and phthalates. Their polishes are also vegan and cruelty-free. Habit uses safe ingredients like bamboo leaf extract and a special polymer technology to create a durable manicure. Their line comes in a variety of trendy colors. According to reviewers, the formula applies smoothly and dries fairly quickly.


Sienna nail lacquers are 10-free and made with plant-based ingredients like potato starch resin and bamboo silk. Their formulas are vegan, gluten-free, and cruelty-free. Sienna has an extensive range of nature-inspired shades. Reviewers praise the even application, chip-resistant wear, and glossy finish. Sienna nail polishes are available at Target.


Pacifica offers 7-free and vegan nail polish made without harsh additives. Their polishes feature nourishing ingredients like flax seed, vitamin C, and rose hips. Pacifica has both classic and bold nail colors. According to reviews, their formula applies smoothly and dries fast. The brand is available at Ulta and Whole Foods.


Ella+Mila nail polishes are 7-free, vegan, and PETA-certified cruelty-free. Their ingredients include vitamin E, argan oil, and bamboo extract. The brand has a wide color selection including matte and chrome finishes. Reviewers mention the polishes apply evenly without streaking. Ella+Mila can be found at Target and CVS.

Zao Makeup

Zao Makeup nail polishes are formulated without the major toxic chemicals found in conventional polishes. Their eco-friendly formula includes bamboo extract, rice protein, and argan oil. Zao Makeup offers classic, trendy, and natural-look shades. According to reviews, the formula glides on easily and delivers a glossy shine. The brand can be purchased online through Credo Beauty and Amazon.

Application and Removal Tips

When applying eco-friendly nail polish, using thin coats can help the polish last longer. Putting on multiple thin layers allows each coat to dry thoroughly before adding the next layer. Thick coats take longer to dry and can lead to chipping and peeling. According to https://ailuna.com/eco-friendly-manicure/, using a base coat underneath eco-friendly polish can also help it adhere better and last longer on nails.

For removing polish, reusable cotton pads with a natural nail polish remover are an eco-friendly option instead of disposable cotton balls. Products like Freon Collective’s reusable pads can stand up to repeated use. Acetone-free removers with ingredients like soy, sunflower oil, and vitamin E avoid harsh chemicals. Safely disposing of used cotton pads and nail polish remover is also important to avoid contamination.

Proper application and gentle removal allow eco-friendly nail polish to look great while minimizing environmental impact. Following these simple techniques can help you achieve a long-lasting manicure and reduce waste.

Cost Comparison

Eco-friendly polishes typically cost a bit more than traditional polishes. For example, a bottle of Zoya nail polish costs around $10 while a comparable eco-friendly brand like Piggy Paint costs around $15. However, the extra cost is often worthwhile considering the health and environmental benefits.

The ingredients in conventional nail polishes like toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Exposure to these chemicals, especially over time with regular use, carries health risks like respiratory irritation, headaches, allergic reactions, and potential reproductive issues.

Though eco-friendly polishes are more expensive upfront, avoiding exposure to the toxic chemicals found in standard polish may help prevent health problems down the line. This makes the higher prices a wise investment for your wellbeing.

There are also hidden costs associated with the negative environmental impacts of traditional polishes. The toxins get washed down drains and leach into groundwater, contaminating ecosystems. Eco-friendly options prevent this environmental damage. Though difficult to quantify, reducing pollution has real economic value.

While eco-friendly polishes are more costly per bottle, many brands like Piggy Paint use safer, natural ingredients like water, corn, and clay. This allows the polish to be removed without harsh acetone-based removers, providing additional savings.

For those concerned about ingredients and the environment, paying a bit more for clean, non-toxic nail polish is a small price to live and promote sustainability.


In this article, we covered the dangers of conventional nail polish and the benefits of using eco-friendly options instead. Traditional nail polish often contains harsh chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene, and phthalates which can have negative health effects with repeated exposure. These ingredients are also not environmentally friendly and get washed down the drain into waterways.

Eco-friendly polishes avoid these toxic chemicals and use plant-based, non-toxic ingredients instead. They are better for your health and have less impact on the planet. Brands like Zoya, Olive & June, and Ella + Mila offer quality vegan and cruelty-free polishes in many trendy colors and finishes.

Though they often cost a bit more upfront, eco-friendly polishes are a smart investment for your wellbeing and the environment. With some proper prep and removal techniques, you can get great wear and look from them. So make the switch and go green with your next manicure!

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