Going Plastic Free? You'll Need to Give Up Nail Polish!

toxin-free nail polish pictureEvery now and then (or all the time), some of us love to get a manicure and nail polish. It can make us feel more colourful, glamorous, and confident. But, there is nothing that inspires confidence about the ingredients in nail polishes!

Did you know that nail polish is not plastic free?  Nail polishes are made from plastic and other fossil fuel derived ingredients.

Nail polish is a liquid plastic that hardens when it dries on your nails. It contains various chemicals derived from petroleum, such as ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, nitrocellulose, and toluene, and phthalate-containing plasticisers.  These chemicals are not good for the environment or your health. They can cause people irritation, allergies, headaches, nausea, and possibly worse.

We know that many of us love the occasional nail polish, so we have some solutions at the end for you.  It is ok to make occasional choices that are not great for the environment when, most of the time, you are taking action to make a difference in so many ways.

How does nail polish work

Have you ever wondered why nail polish stays on your nails? How does it form a smooth and shiny coating that resists chipping and peeling? The answer lies in the chemistry of nail polish. Nail polish consists of four main types of ingredients: solvents, film formers, plastic resins, and plasticisers.


Solvents are liquids that dissolve the other ingredients and make the polish easy to apply. They evaporate quickly once the polish is exposed to air, leaving behind a solid film. Common solvents used in nail polish are ethyl acetate and butyl acetate.

Film formers

Film formers are chemicals that create a smooth surface on the nail. The most common film former is nitrocellulose, a polymer made from cellulose and nitric acid. Nitrocellulose is also used in explosives, paints, and floor lacquers.

Plastic resins

Resins are chemicals that make the film adhere to the nail and give it gloss and hardness. They also act as film modifiers, which control the properties of the film, such as drying time, thickness, and durability. 

An example of a resin used in nail polish is tosylamide-formaldehyde resin, a polymer made from toluene and formaldehyde.


Plasticisers (plasticizers) are chemicals that make the plastic resin flexible and prevent it from cracking or chipping - otherwise, it would dry brittle.

This is the same as when plasticisers are used to make PVC plastic soft and flexible such as for lunch box linings and pool toys.

The nasty stuff in nail polish

So, not only are there no plastic free nail polishes, with chemicals like formaldehyde, camphor, parabens and synthetic fragrances, our manicure ends up being less than pretty!

Formaldehyde can cause irritation, neurological effects, increased risk of allergy, and is a known carcinogen.

Toulene is a substance that's also in paint thinners, glues and correction fluid (nobody wants paint thinner on the hands they eat with).

DBP, or Dibutyl phthalate, is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it interferes with hormones in your body.

Camphor applied topically to the skin has been linked to liver damage; if applied to broken skin, it can enter the bloodstream and reach poisoning concentrations.

Xylene, a solvent in the rubber and leather industries, can cause irritation, cracking and dryness of the skin, allowing other chemicals to be easily absorbed into the body.

Parabens are preservatives, and they are carcinogenic.

Phthalates are the plasticisers, and may cause endocrine disruption as well.  

These are just some of the potentially harmful chemicals in your nail polish. With conventional nail polish and manicures, not only do you invest money into something that is totally unsafe for your body, but the chemicals aren't great for the planet either.


What about "toxin-free" nail polishes?

If you're after a polish that stays on your nails, then you will not find a nail polish that is completely free of plastic and petroleum chemicals.

Some brands avoid the chemicals that pose the most serious risks to your well-being.

How to achieve beautiful nails naturally?

It is possible to nurture the natural beauty of your nails, rather than covering up with polish what you may see as imperfections.

READ OUR GUIDE to achieving healthy, beautiful nails naturally.


How to paint your nails most sustainably? 

So, what can you do if you love painting your nails, but also want to live a more sustainable life? Here are some tips:

  • Choose nail polish brands that are named as 10 free or 7 free polish. That means they do not use formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, camphor, formaldehyde resin, xylene, parabens, fragrances, phthalates, Ethyl tosylamide, triphenyl phosphate.  They are not plastic free nail polish.
  • Choose from local brands that you know and trust - not faceless brands made in China.  Check out the brand's social media - do they talk about who they are and their values?  Are they B Corp certified, or have other certifications?
  • Use a glass nail file instead of a plastic one. Glass nail files are more durable, hygienic, and gentle on your nails. They also reduce waste and save money in the long run.
  • Remove your nail polish with a natural nail polish remover. Most conventional nail polish removers contain acetone, which is harsh on your nails and skin, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are harmful to the air quality. Natural nail polish removers use plant-based solvents, such as soy, corn, or orange.
  • Recycle your old nail polish bottles responsibly.  They are not able to be placed in household recycling. You can either take them to a hazardous waste facility or a nail polish recycling program, such as TerraCycle.

Nail polish is plastic, but you can reduce the harm by following our tips.



Why "Toxin Free" Nail Polishes Still Contain Harmful Ingredients


Back to blog

New arrivals

1 of 12