I started using chemical free nail polish about a year ago in the hopes of saving the health of my incredibly damaged nails. The chemical free polishes cost more on average than basic drug store polishes, so I was hesitant at first, but this was honestly the best decision I’ve ever made for the health of my nails.
Whenever the clerk behind the counter at CVS Pharmacy would hand me their mile long receipt filled with coupons, I’d instantly scan it to see if they were offering any discounts on Essie nail polish. Essie had always been my favorite, and luckily with those coupons a $9-12 nail polish would turn into a $3 nail polish. I got a new color every single time I went. Who could pass up a discount that huge?
Problem was, the Essie company has not gone chemical free. While they are 3-free, their nail polish contained enough harmful ingredients to strip my nails, cause tearing, and discolor my finger tips. This isn’t the case for everyone who uses their products, they still do have a good product for some people. However, I have brittle nails due to hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and nail polishes from companies like Essie, OPI, and Sally’s decimated the health of my nails.
Christmas of 2019 I received my first bottle of 8-free nail polish from tenoverten as a gift. It was a brand I never could have afforded on my student budget, but had been looking at for a while. I tried it the same day I got it and I have never been so instantly impressed with a nail polish brand before. It went on smooth, dried incredibly quick, and lasted almost an entire week without chipping. I was blown away! No wonder these polishes cost so much.
I have since also tried ORLY Breathable and Pacifica 7-free polish, and both have been incredibly pleasant as well. Personally my favorite continues to be tenoverten.
Since these products worked so wonderfully, I wanted to know, what exactly is it about removing those chemicals that allows for such a great experience? And what in the common chemical nail polishes was wreaking so much havoc on my nails?
According to the tenoverten website, the 8 harmful ingredients they leave out of their nail polishes are “dibutyl phthalate (dbp), toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, triphenyl phosphate (tphp).” Out of these, other common 3-free polish brands typically only exclude dibutyl phthalate (dbp), toluene, and formaldehyde. While these big three are often what do the most damage to a persons nails, they are not the only ones by far. If you don’t intend to dive into the world of more-than-3-free nail polishes, at least make sure what you are buying is 3-free. Luckily 3-free isn’t uncommon or terribly expensive, so don’t do your nails the incredible disservice of coating them in more harmful chemicals than needed.
Aside from those big three though, that still leaves us with five chemical ingredients that we don’t need. These five were contributing to my deteriorating nails, and needed to be ditched. But, why?
Formaldehyde Resin is an ingredient in most nail polishes that helps the polish to form a strong and shiny coat on the nail. This is what you get when you mix a phenol (an acidic organic compound that can cause chemical burns) and formaldehyde (an organic gas used in many things we use each day from wood products to fabrics- however, you most likely remember it for it’s famous use in murders and kidnappings). Now, I’m not about fear mongering, and in so many products it’s a fine substance to use, but when you start talking about its uses on the body it’s good to err on the side of caution.
Camphor is a natural oil taken from the camphor tree. It is not directly harmful, and can even have a number of health benefits when used externally. It can be found in small amounts in lotions and ointments meant to ease joint pain and reduce itch from rashes and bug bites. However, this product is considered a turpentine, which is not to be used on the skin in many cases and definitely not to be ingested. Mainly this is a cause for concern because if applied on broken skin or ingested it can cause severe health issues.
Ethyl Tosylamide is toluene mixed with ethanesulfonamide, and as you can see in the list above, even the big three exclude toluene as a single ingredient. If it won’t be included as a single ingredient, it probably shouldn’t also be included as a mixture. This ingredient is used in nail polish to help the polish adhere to your nail and form a strong coat. However, it’s not necessary.
Xylene is similar to toluene in that it is commonly found in products like paint thinners and is flammable. It can cause dizziness, headaches, loss of muscle coordination, and can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, skin, and throat. Often it is most dangerous in its gaseous state when it can be inhaled, however it can still cause harm when pores and other absorptive parts of the body are in contact with its solid form.
Triphenyl Phosphate (tphp) is a compound primarily found in flame retardants and nail polish (two things that shouldn’t have a lot in common). While it has often been used in nail polishes that are meant to be eco-friendly, it isn’t all that friendly. It has been found, in animal studies, to be an endocrine inhibitor which simply means it can disrupt the natural production of your body’s hormones among other issues. As concerns grew over the use of this ingredient, many chemical free and eco-friendly brands have begun to move away from using it.
All of these chemicals are found in most common nail polishes, and aside from being unnecessary they can be straight up harmful to you and the environment. If you’ve been using a 3-free polish, I encourage you to check out tenoverten, Pacifica, and ORLY. All of these brands have restored the health of my nails and I will never be going back.
P.S. A number of chemical free nail polish brands are, or started as, small businesses. Tenoverten is a female owned business that started as a health conscious nail salon in New York and grew into a health conscious nail polish brand. After closures due to the pandemic they were forced to shut down their salons, and have been working to support their staff through it. They’re a brand I’m happy to stand behind for sure.
P.P.S. Often when a brand is chemical free and focused on the health of their consumers, they are also cruelty free by practice and product and aim to support other causes as well. When you look into a brand for your next nail polish purchase, take a look at their FAQs and About pages to learn more about their products and their mission.
Let me know: What chemical free nail polish brands are you a fan of? What made you switch to chemical free?