Natural nail polish. Does it exist? It’s a question I’ve been asking for months years and has caused me to yo-yo between glossy colours and going without for a long time. Well, I’m delighted to say that I think I’ve finally found the answer!
What’s wrong with conventional nail polish?
When I was a little girl, my sister and I used to get our dad to paint our nails (coincidentally he also plaited our hair into little sticky out braids for every school disco until one year we realised that 90’s Gwen Stefani vibe just wasn’t cutting it any more). We would sit at the kitchen table and patiently watch him goop nail polish on our tiny finger nails, refraining from sitting forward too much so as not to breathe in those chemical fumes.
Because I’d grown up with it, it took a long time for me to realise how weird this was. Why was I applying toxic-smelling paint to my finger nails, when it was something I’d been told not to breathe in? And why was I systematically removing it with even stronger-smelling remover, only to rip up my nails underneath, necessitating a hasty repetition of the whole process?
In the end, it all comes down to ingredients. As my 25 Beauty Ingredients to Avoid list advocates, you should always check the label, and in the case of nail polishes, you should be avoiding these three like the plague:
Formaldehyde: Before discovering it was in nail polish, I only ever knew of formaldehyde in conjunction with dead bodies and Damien Hirst’s shark. Rated a 10 on the EWG‘s toxicity scale, it is a known human carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer in the body.
Dibutyl phthalate (DBP): Another long, scientific word, but this was used in nail polishes for a long time before it was discovered to be an endocrine disruptor, meaning it has unpredictable negative effects on the human body. The EU banned this some years ago from both cosmetics and children’s toys.
Toulene: This is what gives nail polish its really funky smell. It’s predominantly used as paint thinner, so you can see why it would be so useful in keeping nail polish fresh, but it adversely affects the central nervous system and also could cause reproductive problems.
What’s the alternative?
Thankfully, there are alternatives. If you’re already into organic beauty sites like LoveLula, you’ll have found three-free nail polish brands a-plenty. While their status isn’t independently certified, it does mean you don’t have to even glance at the label on the back to know that the following brands are cleaner than conventional polishes:
However, what you will still find in these might not be great. Despite nails being a harder exterior than skin and therefore less absorbent, I’m still wary of ingredients such as polymers, silicones, camphor, and more. You may be able to find four-, five- and even six-free (camphor, formaldehyde resin, and thiamine triphosphate being the other prohibited ingredients).
Recently though, I’ve been obsessed with Little Ondine‘s water-based polishes. Their line uses under 10 ingredients to create a long-lasting nail polish that can be applied in exactly the same way, but does not smell at all and can be peeled off rather than removed with ethyl acetate. Their polishes still contain triethanolamine, which is an allergen, but I’m finding them incredibly gentle on my nails.
In the top photo I’m wearing a base and top coat of Secret and one coat of Red Red Wine, which turns a deep burgundy colour if you go in for two coats. So far, they’ve lasted my a good five days without tearing, but you do have to be careful when applying otherwise you can end up peeling a whole nail off when you’re aiming for a tiny fleck on your skin. I know I’ll be sticking with this colour and brand over the winter months, as it’s so easy to use and so much kinder on my nails!