Non-Toxic Nail Polish Guide

What potential health hazards are lurking in your nail polish?

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| July 11th, 2011
According to Jane Park, founder of Julep Nail Parlor in Seattle, Washington, you won’t even miss dropping the above from your polish vocab. “Polish that doesn’t contain these ingredients stays on nails for as long and is just as shiny as those that do, and you can rest easy knowing that they’re not affecting your health,” she says.

QUIZ: Does Your Health Impact Your Lifestyle? 

“4-Free” = all of the above + no formaldehyde resin
It’s not rocket science: Since formaldehyde is a carcinogen, you don’t want to see any form of that 12-letter word on the label of a product that you’re using weekly. While taking out the aforementioned trifecta of toxins is becoming mainstream, it’s this pesky fourth that’s still lingering. Technically called tosylamide/formaldehyde resin (if you want any info on it, that’s the name you need to search with), it’s a synthetic resin made from combining the chemicals toluenesulfonamide and formaldehyde. It has not been researched enough to concretely show carcinogenic characteristics. However, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), it’s classified as an allergen and is a known human immune system toxicant that’s “expected to be toxic or harmful.”

James Hammer, a cosmetic chemist at Mix Solutions in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, doesn’t see a need for concern: “Formaldehyde resin isn’t a problem, since the formaldehyde is chemically reacted and the resin itself isn’t harmful like free formaldehyde is,” he says.

However, others argue: Why risk it? “While formaldehyde changes it’s molecular structure upon being turned into resin, there aren’t definitive studies on it’s safety either, and there are plenty of polishes that are leaving it out,” says Nonie Creme, founding creative director of Butter London nail lacquer company.

Vegan = no animal derivatives, by-products or testing
Although the term is commonly associated with extreme foodies who’ve banned all clothing and food that comes from animals in any way, shape or form (as in bye-bye French goat cheese and Italian leather), the same holds true for cosmetics.

“It might sound surprising but there are cosmetic companies that are still using crushed beetle wings to create a metallic or shimmer finish,” says Park, who notes that her Julep line uses aluminum powder to add iridescence instead. Many of the experts interviewed explained that in cosmetics, the use of animal testing or byproducts is no longer prevalent and just because a company doesn’t tout the term “vegan” on their label doesn’t mean they aren’t. 

“I think the idea of calling out a nail polish as vegan is ridiculous,” says Burnes. “Two of the largest manufacturers of nail polish aren’t using any animal-related products in their formulas. Almost everything you’re buying is vegan.” Not a fan of even potentially having your fingers covered in beetle juice? We’re with you. Dialing customer service to double check if the polish you’re reaching for is in fact vegan, even if the label doesn’t say so, could totally be worth it.

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