If you know me well or follow me on Instagram, then you know that I have a not-so-mild obsession with nail polish and nail art. What you may or may not know though, is that nail polish is essentially a small bottle of chemicals that have easy access to your bloodstream once applied to the nail. Not to mention the brain cells it kills with toxic fumes! So now your next question is- Isn't this a conflict of interest for your chemical-free, natural, clean lifestyle?
Yes, I concede that it is, however, it is one that I will allow for two reasons: 1.) For a very long time, painting my nails was literally the only creative outlet that I could take pleasure in, and it helped to keep me sane and escape my world of pain and sickness for a short time, and 2.) It makes me happy, and anything that makes me happy is worth doing (within reason, of course), I figure that whatever damage the nail polish toxins are doing are being counteracted by the happiness I feel when I look down at my nails and see something prettily painted upon them. Judge if you want, but everyone deserves to have a guilty pleasure or two, and painting my nails is mine.
Even though most popular brands of nail polish are in and of themselves quite toxic, the polish world has made much positive progress in creating less toxic polish formulas over the past few years. New brands of polish are popping up everyday, and indie nail polishes are on the rise. Nowadays there are more options than ever, and you can even buy vegan or water-based nail polish with all natural ingredients, which are virtually void of toxins and are even safe for the minis in your life.
Before we get into my recommendations for leading a clean nail polish life, let’s cover a few basics…
What does 3 Free, 4 Free, and 5 Free mean?
For many years, most nail polish companies included three very scary ingredients in their formulas: formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate. The combined effects of these three ingredients have been known to cause reproductive issues, disturbances in the endocrine system, nervous system impairments such as dizziness, fatigue, and headaches, and have even caused cancer in lab rats. You can learn more about these chemicals here, but suffice it to say that you don’t want these toxins to be absorbed into your blood stream (heads up: toxins can enter straight into your bloodstream through your nail bed). Luckily, most big nail polish brands like OPI, Essie, Butter London, China Glaze, and SOPI have removed these three toxins, and therefore, such polishes are referred to as ‘3 Free’, meaning they are free of the three big nasties.
But even if a polish doesn’t contain these three dangerous toxins, you can bet that most contain all kinds of other harmful chemicals, and some brands have taken it a step further by removing formaldehyde residue (4-Free) and camphor (5-Free). This article in Slate describes some of the hurdles that still exist, even in these less toxic brands of nail polish.
So now that I’ve taken all of the fun out of painting your nails, let’s get into a few very basic rules that I try to live by when it comes to my polish habits.
1.) Only use nail polish brands that are 3-Free or higher
I’ve made it a personal rule that, moving forward, I will only allow myself to purchase polish brands that are 4 Free or (preferably) 5 Free, but since I have a boat load of 3 Free polishes (hello, Essie), I do still allow myself to use them. You can bet that I threw out all of the polishes that weren't at least 3 Free though, because, well… formaldehyde. Personally, my favorite brands right now are Julep (4-Free), Zoya, and Deborah Lippmann (both 5-Free). If I'm feeling really dedicated then I go with an organic line like Mineral Fusion or Karma Organics that can be found at your local Whole Foods.
Psst… This site is a great resource for checking out the level chemical contaminants in different nail polish brands.
2.) Replace your traditional alcohol or acetone-based nail polish remover with a naturally based one
I’m sure that by now most women know that acetone is not only terrible for your nail health, but can also be harmful to your general health. But even most non-acetone polish removers are loaded with their own toxic chemicals. Luckily, there are lots of other options out there today for the health conscious consumer. My nail polish remover of choice is by Karma Naturals, it may be more expensive than your typical alcohol- based nail polish remover, but it lasts about 10 times longer, plus, instead of stripping your nails of the moisture they need, it actually replenishes moisture as it gently removes polish. I will warn you that it requires a tad more elbow grease than what you may be used to, especially for those who use acetone, but there’s no doubt that with a bit of effort you’ll have a much healthier nail as a result of ditching your old remover. I bought this bottle on Amazon almost a year ago, and it’s still about 1/2 full.
3.) Proper ventilation
This is probably a no-brainer for anyone who’s ever walked into a nail salon, but proper ventilation makes an enormous difference. Turn on a fan, open the window, make sure to paint to your nails in an open space instead of a smaller closed off bathroom. And for goodness sakes, ladies, try not to get too close to that open bottle while applying your polish, the smell alone could knock you out.
4.) Try not to let the polish touch your skin, and/or clean up quickly upon application
Just as nail polish toxins can seep into your body through your nail bed, they can certainly be absorbed by the skin, so make sure to use your toxin-free remover or a hot bath to remove any excess polish that has gotten onto your skin or cuticle area.
With these four easy rules, I hope that you feel a bit more comfortable, or at least less guilty, about partaking in a potentially toxic habit. Good luck ladies, now let’s see those manis!