Is There Such A Thing As Clean Nail Polish? What You Need To Know!


Is There Such A Thing As Clean Nail Polish? What You Need To Know!

When looking at clean beauty, we cannot forget about nail care. Nail salons alone are a whole other topic of discussion considering the chemical exposure that potentially causes major damage and health concerns. Nail salon workers have been putting themselves at risk of chemical exposure for decades, all because the nail products themselves are not safe.  

The HBO documentary, Not So Pretty, highlights the fact that the negative respiratory effects and overall health issues of nail salon workers is an overlooked epidemic. A survey showed that most salon workers had severe respiratory problems, asthma, thyroid issues, pregnancy complications, and often cancer. The amount of risk that we're exposed to at the nail salon, or while doing nails at home, is a lot lower than that of the workers themselves who live in that environment every day. The point of the matter is that our nail products should not be toxic for us in the first place.  

It is also important to note that those who are avid gel nail wearers are also exposing themselves to some negative side effects. Consistently getting gel nails may result in premature signs of aging on the hands. If you are also a gel nail manicure lover a good preventative measure is to use protective gloves. SayWow's Sun gloves offer UPF 50+ full protection from your wrist to the edge of your fingers.

How does the FDA regulate the use of Toxic Ingredients used in Nail Polish?

I don't like the answer to this question, and I'm pretty sure you won't either!

The nail industry’s own safety data sheets show that there are listed carcinogens such as Dimethyl-amylamine, Titanium dioxide, and methylene glycol (known to cause cancer). Though exposure needs to be long enough to put you at risk, there is still no FDA (Food and Drug Administration) premarket safety assessment before nail products go to consumers. There is no law banning ingredients such as TPHP, triphenyl phosphate, a nail polish chemical which has been linked to altered endocrine function and reproductive issues. Bottom line is, the FDA really has no control over what companies are putting into their nail products.   

This leniency within the FDA and cosmetic production is absurd considering most nail polish ingredients are extremely toxic. The FDA has no control, therefore cosmetic companies are free to disclose what they choose. It is left up to us, consumers, to change the market in the only way that we can. The only way to do so is to boycott harmful polish brands that create highly toxic formulas, and to support brands that are attempting to go the natural, or in this case, less toxic route.

We know checking the ingredient lists on the back of your products can be a confusing and daunting task, so we have curated a list of the worst chemicals to avoid in nail products, and researched clean brands that offer healthier options than mainstream brands.


What's the "Clean" standard For Nail Polish?

While it's important to note that, unfortunately, there is no entity that defines  standards for what should be considered 'clean', leaders in the better beauty movement such as The Beauty Doctrine (AKA- us), take it upon themselves to determine criteria for what might be deemed safe for daily use.

You can find our list of the worst ingredients that you should avoid in skincare here. As far as nail polish, the top ten ingredients that are cause of concern are: Phthalates, Toluene, Xylene, Ethylisylamide, Trphenylphosphate, Camphor, Formaldehyde, Acetone, Parabens, and animal products. I will add Led to that list as well.


What should I look for when shopping for better nail polish?

Companies started creating 3-free, 7-free, and now up to 21-free formulas meaning they are free of up to 21 harmful chemicals in their product. This is a step in the right direction, creating more natural and safer formulations.  

3 most toxic chemicals used in nail polish are:

  • Formaldehyde, which prevents chipping but is considered a carcinogen.
  • Toluene, which is a solvent, and a known neurotoxin.
  • Dibutyl Phthalate, which helps the polish's consistency and prevents chipping, but is a hormonal disruptor and can lead to reproductive problems.

7-free polishes avoid the above-mentioned three ingredients, plus: Camphor (causes dizziness & headaches), Ethyl Tosylamide (antibiotic resistant), Xylene (neurotoxin), and Formaldehyde Resin (may cause asthma & other respiratory problems).

10-free polishes add the following to their banned list: Parabens (mimic estrogen, causing havoc on the reproductive system), Tert-Butyl Hydroperoxide (toxic when it enters the blood stream), and animal products. This last one might not be toxic in substance, but animal cruelty is a pillar of clean beauty, so we love to see companies go cruelty-free.

There are numerous other ingredients to look out for, but this list is a great start as health-conscious companies continue to innovate in this space, striving to create better products for all of us.



What are the Best Nail Polish Brands?

We thought you might be wondering, so we have researched the cleanest polish brands on the market. I have to first preface that there are no clean standards for nail polish. The mere process of creating nail polish, and polish remover, requires the use of a number of chemicals that aren't health-friendly. That being said, the worst culprits discussed above are worth noting and avoiding where possible.

You would be pleased to see that our list of clean polish options contains a peel-off option, which doesn't require the use of Acetone to remove.


Our List Of Top Clean Nail Polish Brands  

 $19 for a set of 6 colors.

Bontime Peel Off Clean Nail Polish - Fragrance Free - The Beauty Doctrine



Water-based, Fragrance-free, and best of all; Peel-Off!!! If I can avoid using Acetone to remove a polish, I'm all in. The only negative I could find was that you couldn't immerse the polish in water within 4 hours of application. The easy solution here is to apply it at bed time. It dries very quickly, so that shouldn't be an issue.

$20 per bottle. 


Base Coat Clean Nail Polish - The Beauty Doctrine


Base Coat is a company that formulates their polishes ‘21-free’, meaning free of 21 of the most harmful toxins. Their polish collection comes in a wide range of colors, and retails for $20.00 (can be pricey for nail polish, but worth it for the clean formula and stunning color options). They strive to create a clean beauty experience, which is something we are all about at The Beauty Doctrine.  


$11 for one and $65 for a set of 10.

  Ella + Mila Clean Nail Polish - The Beauty Doctrine

This outstanding “17-free’’ Nail polish collection is certified by Peta for their vegan and cruelty free polish formula. Their claims are to be quick drying and chip resistant.  


  $10 for one bottle & $18 for a set of 4.

 Zoya Nail Polish


Zoya is the very first polish company to create a 10-free, breathable nail polish created for natural nails. Their formula is completely vegan and toluene, formaldehyde, and DBP free. They are cruelty free and a consumer-first brand.  



10+ Toxic Free Life Nail Polish - The Beauty Doctrine




10+ Free Clean Life brand goes the extra mile with their 85% natural formulations, keeping out a number of questionable ingredients. Following is the list from their website. I have to say that they have some gorgeous colors, and their near 5-star Amazon reviews had me adding a few to cart!

I loved that they added skincare ingredients to their formulation such as Hyaluronic Acid, Peptides, Panthenol, Vitamin E and Niacinamide. Remember, our nails are as absorbent as our skin, so anytime there are gentle & nurturing ingredients that can help offset the chemicals in a product, I'm in!

The ingredients this brand leaves out of their formulations:

Formaldehyde Triphenyl Phosphate
Toluene Ethyl Tosylamide
Dibutyl Phthalate Xylene
Formaldehyde Resin Guanine
Formaldehyde Donors Carmine
Camphor Gluten
Lead Methylisothiazolinone
MEHQ Mineral Oil
Parabens Styrene
Bisphenol A Nonylphenol Ethoxylate
Acetone Sulphates



Sally Hanson Clean Nail Polish



Although not a fan of the marketing that plays on words such as 'plant-based', and when you look close enough, you'll see that it's the brush that's plant based not the polish (nothing wrong with a synthetic brush), I still recommend this polish because it's 16-free. It's rated 4.5 stars on Amazon, with few bad reviews about sheer colors, needing more coats to look even. I am personally ok with that. We have to pick our battles, and I think going through a bit of experimentation with a 'cleaner' brand is worth the effort. Not everyone can afford expensive options, so this is an option for those on a limited budget. No excuses now for purchasing cheap toxin-filled polish! :)


Sally Hanson polish is 10-free of: formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, xylene, acetone, phthalates, camphor, parabens, ethyl tosylamide, or triphenyl phosphate.




If you, like me, plan to continue getting pampered at the nail salon, here are a few good habits that can help you avoid toxic exposure:

  • Wear a mask
  • Select a salon with good ventilation. Strong smells are indicative of high toxin content in the environment.
  • Bring your own toxin-free polish. If enough of us start doing this, salon owners will hopefully take notice, and opt for better options to keep their customers coming.



Be well. Be safe. Be beautiful.  


 Not So Pretty HBO Documentary

As a blogger, my content may include affiliate links from advertisers. I may earn a small commission from actions readers take on these links such as a purchase, or subscribe. All my recommendations are based on my own research and personal trust in the products that I share. I am not a doctor or nutritionist. Please consult with your practitioner prior to using any products recommended.
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A very nice guide. I will definitely follow these tips. Thank you for sharing such a detailed article. I am learning a lot from you.

Glamcode 27/07/2022
Brooke Scott

We would be thrilled to be included in this list! Our polishes are 21-free, vegan, cruelty free, made in the USA and recyclable! Also, retails for $12 :)

Brooke Scott 16/06/2022


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