You love nail polish. In every color. And texture. We get it. But think of this. Is there a niggling worry about what all those chemicals in that gleaming bottle are doing to your nails? Especially if you’ve ever happened to turn over a bottle and glance at the long list of ingredients printed on the back. There’s no death of jargon being thrown about, 2-free, 3-free, 5-free, paraben-sulphate-free, and so on. Now if you care even a teensy bit about toxins on your nails, take the time to understand why it’s important to be safe than sorry.
- Why Go 5-Free?
When a nail enamel label declares it’s 5-free, what it means is that the formula doesn’t contain scary sounding ingredients—formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and the allergens camphor and formaldehyde resin. Most drugstore brands contain these, but if you are willing to pay just a little more, you’ll rest easy that you’re prettying up with the safest polish possible. In fact, some polishes go so far as too remove even up to 9 or 10 potentially dangerous ingredients.
- How Dangerous Are These Toxins
You might think that just because polish sits atop nails, the ingredients don’t matter much. But that’s not true. As it turns out, our nails are quite porous, and all those baddies can cause problems in the long term. Formaldehyde is carcinogenic when used over long periods and is especially dangerous for hair stylists who straighten hair for a living. Formaldehyde resin is a known allergen and can cause contact dermatitis. Researchers at Duke University and Environmental Working Group say most nail polishes contain triphenyl phosphate (also known as TPHP), an endocrine disruptor that causes weight gain, reproductive issues, and other hormonal problems. Scarier still, just one manicure is enough to impact your body.
Dibutyl phthalate causes reproductive problems and toluene is harmful to unborn fetuses. Meanwhile, camphor is associated with severe skin irritation and allergic reactions. Obviously, if you’re a nail biter or eat with your hands or simply love changing your nail polish, its sensible to go 5-free. Nykaa Nail Enamel, Colorbar Nail Lacquer, Orly Nail Polish, Lotus Nail Enamel, Sally Hansen, OPI Nail Lacquer and Sugar Nail Enamel are just some of the top 5 or more free nail polishes on Nykaa. Meanwhile, the three most commonly known toxic chemicals found in nail polish are dibutyl phtalate (DBP), formaldehyde and toluene. If a nail polish is free of these three, it’s called 3-Free.
- Cruelty-Free Nail Polish
Nail polish is pretty and fun but often the actual manufacturing is anything but. Many cosmetic brands shell out large sums of money to undertake unnecessary, inhumane tests on animals—from dripping substances into their eyes to smearing products onto their scraped skin—all in the name of ensuring safety for human use. After the tests, the animals are usually killed. Brands who can confirm that no animal testing takes place at any point during production, including by their suppliers, and do not sell their products in mainland China, are deemed cruelty-free. Most of these cruelty-free nail polish brands are also 100% vegan! Luckily for you, there are plenty of cruelty-free nail polish brands to choose from, including Wet n Wild, Nykaa Nail Enamel, LA Girl and Milani Cosmetic.
- Breathable Nail Polish
Yes, it’s a thing. The concept first came to be in 2013 when Inglot launched its O2M Breathable Nail Enamel (in glossy and matte finishes). Today, another breathable front runner is Orly with its Breathable Treatment + Color line. But what exactly is breathable nail polish anyway? Who hasn’t had a well-meaning friend or manicurist tell us that wearing polish all the time will make nails brittle since polish creates an impermeable layer that keeps nails from getting the water and oxygen they need to stay healthy? Breathable nail polish is designed to allow water and oxygen molecules to slip through the polish into the nail, supposedly improving nail health. But talk to dermatologists and you hear different. “Nails get their oxygen and nutrient supply from the bloodstream, not the air,” says Dr. Abhijit Desai. In fact, he says, allowing moisture to pass through polish and enter the nail could actually result in infection. So breathable nail polish may not be all it’s touted to be.
Still, it’s safer to go 3-free or 5-free without compromising on color, wear and finish. Safe beauty is the best beauty after all.