In recent years, as more and more studies have come out showing that the nail plate is more porous than previously thought, nontoxic nail polishes have become the norm. Put simply, nontoxic nail polishes are those formulated without ingredients that are known toxins and allergens. In the early days of nontoxic nail polish, brands focused on eliminating the big three: formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate — all of which were used to strengthen the polish, and all of which been linked to a variety of health issues, from reproductive issues to headache to allergic reactions. Now, some formulas are 12- or 15-free — eliminating ingredients like xylene (a possible carcinogen and irritant), triphenyl phosphate (it’s been connected to issues with hormone regulation), and even gluten and parabens. The sheer breadth of options and formulas can make picking a nontoxic polish confusing. Sarah Gibson Tuttle, the founder of Olive & June, recommends going with one that is at least five-free and says to avoid a polish outright if it contains formaldehyde or formaldehyde resin.
Historically, people have been wary of nontoxic formulas, fearing they don’t perform as well as their toxic counterparts. “I’ve worn both traditional and nontoxic polishes on my nails through the years for testing and I do notice that some nontoxic polishes tend to not last as long as traditional ones,” says Queenie Nguyen, a Los Angeles–based nail artist. “This is due to the lack of formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate (DBP), which are both contained in traditional polishes to strengthen and prevent chipping. They tend to also take a bit longer to dry in compared to traditional polishes.” Nguyen has noticed, however, that nail beds appear to stain less frequently with nontoxic formulas, and are less dry. Plus, formulas have evolved in recent years. One polish, from nontoxic brand Olive & June, has earned cult status for its long-wearing abilities (“they kept my nails shiny, bright, and chip-free for more than a week,” wrote the Cut’s Kathleen Hou). Others, like Orosa Beauty have become staples among the well-lit Instagram set for their ultrapigmented formulas that come in a range of vibe-y hues. Legacy brands now have nontoxic formulas too, from Sally Hansen to Essie to OPI. Below, the best nontoxic nail polish in a number of categories, as recommended by Nguyen, Gibson Tuttle, and freelance social strategist and nail enthusiast Evelynn Escobar-Thomas.
Best Overall Nontoxic Nail Polish
Nguyen and Escobar-Thomas like Orosa Beauty, a 14-free beauty brand that’s also vegan and cruelty-free. “They’re always my go-to,” says Escobar-Thomas. “The color selection is A1, they can last up to two weeks with the right primer and top coat and don’t take long to dry.” Nguyen’s favorite shade from the brand is “Sage,” a pastel green shade that feels seasonless and trendy.
The Best Quick-Dry Nontoxic Nail Polish
Nguyen is partial to Nails Inc.’s Pure Line, which is 10-free, vegan, cruelty-free, and halal-friendly. “It’s rapid dry, long-wearing, and highly pigmented for nail art (which ensures the clarity of intricate art),” she says, noting that they also have a good color selection. One of her favorite shades from the brand is “Living Your Best Life.” “It’s a warm, happy yellow color that looks great on all skin tones, perfect for springtime.” Escobar-Thomas is also a fan. “They provide long-lasting color and a wide color selection,” she says.
The Best Neon Nontoxic Nail Polish
Another popular nontoxic option is Orly, which Nguyen likes for their neon shades, pigmentation, and long wear time. Neons are harder to achieve without certain chemicals, she says, and swears by the shade Glowstick from the brand. “It’s my all-time favorite and perfect for the summer time.”
The Best Odorless Nontoxic Nail Polish
Nguyen says Sally Hansen’s plant-based Pure line of polish is also particularly good (16-free), noting that it’s odorless (which makes it particularly good for stuck-inside nail-painting), ultrapigmented, and lasts a long time. “Plus, the applicator is plant-based,” she says. The line is available in 30 classic shades, including “Laven-dear,” a warm, soft purple that’s perfect for the impending warm weather.
The Best Longwearing Nontoxic Nail Polish
Zoya was the first brand Escobar-Thomas used when she made the switch to nontoxic nail polish, and swears by the long-lasting formula. The brand, which claims to be the longest-wearing nontoxic nail polish in the world, has over 400 shades in a wide range of hues, and seasonally releases on-trend colors.
Another long-wearing brand is Olive & June, which has gained something of a reputation for its crazy-long wear time: One customer claimed her Olive & June manicure once lasted 21 days. Founder Sarah Gibson Tuttle says it comes down to the added resin in the formula, which helps it to last, and also happens to make it particularly easy for nonprofessionals to work with. Speaking of nonprofessionals, in light of social distancing, the brand is hosting a virtual mani boot camp on its Instagram every day through April 11, which will teach you how to get a good mani at home.
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