How To Choose Non-Toxic Nail Polish

Given the smell the emits from nail polish bottles it probably comes as no surprise that they can often be jam-packed with chemicals that are bad for both the environment and your health. The ingredients list can also be confusing and full of long, scientific names, so knowing what to look out for can get tricky. Today I’m here to help with all that, with a how-to guide on choosing non-toxic nail polish!

How to choose non-toxic nail polish

In recent years as more has become known about the risk of these chemicals in nail polish many brands have taken steps to remove what’s known as the ‘big three’ chemicals, advertising themselves as ‘3-free’. Not all brands have done this however, so the chemicals in question to look out for are:


Formaldehyde is added to nail polish as a hardener, however it’s a known carcinogen, particularly nasal and lung cancers. It’s definitely not something you want to expose yourself to if you can avoid it.

Dibutyl Phthalate, or DBP

This chemical is added to make the nail polish more flexible and stop it becoming brittle and prone to chipping. It has been linked to reproductive issues in women as well as liver and kidney problems in children if they suck or chew on products which contain DBP (including chewing on painted nails). It has been banned from use in Europe which is enough for me!


Toluene is included in nail polish to help keep it smooth however it is classified as a skin irritant and can cause dermatitis as well as irritation of your eyes, nose, throat and respiratory system. It has also been known to cause headaches, dizziness and nausea. Toluene is another chemical that is banned in the EU.

Some brands have gone another step further and made themselves ‘5-free’, by removing two further chemicals:

Formaldehyde Resin

Formaldehyde resin isn’t seen as quite so bad as formaldehyde, however it is still seen as a known allergen and irritant, so why not avoid it if you can!


Studies have shown that inhaling camphor can cause skin irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness, so avoiding it where you can is definitely a great idea. It’s also generally used as a plasticiser and rust repellant which aren’t really issues we have to contend with when it comes to our nails, so it’s something we can go without in our nail polish!

With regards to nail polish removers, the jury seems to be out on whether or not acetone should be avoided or not – I personally find it drying for my skin so I choose to use acetone-free removers. Whatever you use, make sure you paint and remove your nail polish in a well ventilated room to reduce the number of fumes you’ll inhale in the process.

Brands to Consider

As I mentioned earlier, thankfully there are brands out there that have removed at least three, if not all five of these chemicals from their nail polish, and they’re generally not too hard to track down! This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means (I’m no beauty blogger for many reasons!) so if I’ve missed any that you know of please let me know in the comments!


Butter London, CND, Deborah Lippmann, Essie, OPI


Zoya, Scotch Naturals, Chanel, RGB, Kester Black, Adorn Cosmetics

And there we have it! A how to guide to help you choose non-toxic nail polish! Do you have a favourite 3 or 5-free brand?

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6 Comments on How To Choose Non-Toxic Nail Polish

  1. Miss Sage Sugar
    February 25, 2015 at 10:04 am (9 years ago)

    Great post! I usually use Sinful Colors because they are made in the USA and are formaldehyde, toluene and DBP free. Plus, it doesn’t chip for ages 🙂
    Miss Sage Sugar recently posted…‘Eva for Loverly’ Bridal Collection

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      March 1, 2015 at 7:19 pm (9 years ago)

      Excellent to hear! I’ll have to keep an eye out for that brand too!

  2. Nicole- Champagne and Chips
    February 26, 2015 at 10:56 am (9 years ago)

    Good stuff. I don’t really wear nail polish but it is nice to know that there are some healthier alternatives out there.
    Your comments on formaldehyde took me back to uni days where we used to have to pull body parts out of formaldehyde tanks for anatomy class. I certainly inhaled a lot of formaldehyde in those days.
    Nicole- Champagne and Chips recently posted…Food and Wine Events Melbourne and Victoria – March 2015

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      March 1, 2015 at 7:20 pm (9 years ago)

      Yikes, that doesn’t sound like much fun at all to me!

  3. Bele @ BlahBlah
    February 27, 2015 at 12:49 pm (9 years ago)

    Thank you for this info, I’ve been meaning to look into this for a while. I don’t wear a whole lot of nail polish, but when I do I like a big bold color and the last one I bought, Butter, was great.

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      March 1, 2015 at 7:21 pm (9 years ago)

      My pleasure lovely!


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