If you’ve ever worn nail polish, you’re familiar with the scent of acetone (a chemical solvent that gives off some unmistakable fumes). It’s long been the standard for dissolving nail polish because it’s so fast-acting and effective. Audrey Siu, the founder of vegan and nine-free nail polish line Veque — “nine-free” meaning that it’s missing nine common nail polish toxins, like formaldehyde — says “even contractors who tile bathrooms with grout or epoxy need it sometimes to remove a bit of the mess.” You can imagine that it has its drawbacks; it’s harsh and drying on skin and nails; Siu even says it caused her skin to peel.
Now that more brands are avoiding acetone and creating essential oil- and soy-based nail polish removers instead (New York’s Tenoverten just began selling a soy-based rose nail polish remover at Target), we polled five different nail experts, from nail polish founders to the owners of non-toxic nail salons in the city, on the acetone-free removers that they swear by.
Nail-polish remover solutions
Among the experts we polled, soy nail polish removers tended to be the favorite. They work in similar ways to acetone, containing mixtures of light, non-greasy oils that act as a solvent to dissolve color from your nails. They don’t work as fast (you sometimes have to let the oils sit for a minute or so before rubbing), but because they’re oil-based, they offer more hydration. Jane MacColla, founder of Lower East Side non-toxic nail salon Hortus Nailworks, recommends this one. “We love it because it’s non-drying, super effective in removing polish, and biodegradable.” She does advise that people wash their hands and nails thoroughly to remove all oils and residue before applying polish, and adds that soy-based removers cannot remove gel polish.
Editor’s Note: If you’re not into the lemongrass scent, Priti NYC also sells an unscented version.
Mabelyn Martin, the creative director at Paintbox, loves this soy nail polish remover from Ella + Mia. “The lavender scent smells lovely, and the essential oils keep nails hydrated while you remove your color,” she says. It’s also relatively inexpensive and contains a cocktail of vitamins A, C, and E to strengthen nails.
Boerum Hill nail lounge Ruchki da Nozhki uses a nail polish remover called Karma Organic for customers who are allergic or sensitive to acetone. Owner Katya Kan likes the pleasant lavender scent of this kind (though it does come unscented, too) and she says a little goes a long way. “It only takes one well-soaked cotton ball to remove polish from all ten nails.”
This is the Tenoverten nail polish remover that you can easily buy at Target (it’s the liquid version of the wipes below). This one’s essential oil-based, and has a pleasant rose scent. We’ve tried it ourselves and were blown away by how well this one worked — it removes polish in a matter of seconds, and feels very gentle on nails and cuticles — but be careful with cleaning up the oil residue on the bottle when you sit it down on surfaces. It can leach varnish from tabletops, which we discovered a tad too late.
Nail polish remover wipes
A more travel-friendly alternative to a bottle of remover is a single-use wipe. Chillhouse stocks these towelettes from 10-free nail brand côte, because they’re far and away the favorite of founder Cyndi Ramirez, who likes the citrusy scent of the blood orange essential oils in them. “They smell like oranges and offer a very gentle, moisturizing, and non-drying removal. Literally one of the best nail care products in the game and super easy to carry around with you for those moments where you’re in a pinch.”
Jess Hannah Revesz, founder of J. Hannah, likes these wipes from Tenoverten. “These wipes are easy to travel with and have an amazing rose scent. The remover uses essential oils and natural plant extracts to remove polish.” It comes with a cleansing cloth for removing the oil residue from your hands and moisturizing, which Revesz recommends finishing off with.
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