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All About Non-Toxic Nail Polish—Plus, 16 Stunning Colors to Try

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Quick question: How many natural beauty products line your vanity right now? The clean beauty industry is growing by the second with skincare, makeup, and hair products getting most of the glory. But it’s only, well, natural to be interested in removing potentially toxic ingredients from nail care products too. And whether you DIY your manicures or frequent the nail salon, there’s a lot to break down when it comes to non-toxic, natural nail polishes.

We’re separating nail fact from nail fiction to explain what makes a nail polish “toxin-free”—if it can be at all—as well as the best non-toxic polishes to try, according to our very own IPSY beauty editors and reviews from past Glam Bags.


About the Expert:

Michelle Saunders is a celebrity manicurist and the founder of Saunders & James Nail Care in Oakland, California.

What makes a polish natural and nontoxic?

Here are the hard facts: As of right now, there is no such thing as a truly natural nail polish. “All nail polish is made up of chemicals, it’s lacquer,” explains celebrity manicurist Michelle Saunders. But don’t freak out just yet. “Some chemicals are less harsh than others, and many ‘harmful’ ones have been removed.” Included in that list of harmful chemicals? Toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl-phthalate (or DBP), AKA the three chemicals that are referenced in nail polish formulas labeled “3-free.”

Ultimately, this ingredient regulation is more vital for nail salons than at-home use. “The most important reason that these three chemicals have been removed is not for the safety of consumers’ nails, but for the health of manicurists who would breathe in these chemicals daily,” explains Saunders. “Nails are dead, and are not permeable, like a horn or a hoof of an animal,” Saunders says, who concedes, “Sure, nail polish is drying to the nail just like heat and chemicals are drying to hair, which is made up of the same thing as nails, keratin.”

However, 3-free formulas are just the beginning; there are formulas labeled up to 12-free, all of which refer to the additional ingredients that aren’t in the bottle (such as parabens, camphor, formaldehyde resin, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, and triphenyl phosphate). However, again Saunder stresses that the most harmful thing about nail polish is inhaling the fumes from the chemicals, and it all comes down to personal preference—in formulas, colors, and ingredients. (Also, those with celiac disease will want to look for gluten-free products, as gluten is present in some nail strengtheners.) “I recommend going on the Environmental Working Group website and looking at every ingredient in every nail polish,” says Saunders.

Ready to give non-toxic polishes a try? Keep reading to find out the polishes IPSY beauty editors and Glam Bag reviewers love most.

The 16 Best Non-Toxic Nail Polishes You Need to Try:

SUNDAYS Nail Polish in No. 18
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SUNDAYS Nail Polish

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Best Bordeaux:

The rich, shiny nail color is gorgeous for fall weather and the formula is 10-free and vegan. Ipsters love that it “goes from day to evening” and “dries so fast."

SUNDAYS Nail Polish in No. 04
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SUNDAYS Nail Polish No. 4

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Best Blush:

Perfect for brides, sunny spring days, or just about any other occasion, this soft hue also offers the nail polish brand’s 10-free, vegan benefits. “I don't normally like pink, but this light shade is beautiful,” one reviewer raved.

CONTEXT SKIN Nail Polish Duo in Rocket Queen and Don't Cry
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CONTEXT SKIN Nail Polish Duo

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Best Duo:

You can’t go wrong with this pair of polishes, whether you use the dusty rose, the glitzy gold, or both together, which Ipsters call a “beautiful combination.” Did we mention they’re 5-free, vegan, and cruelty-free as well?

CONTEXT SKIN Nail Lacquer in Ain't Love Strange
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CONTEXT SKIN Nail Lacquer

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Best Long-Lasting:

This 5-free, barely there hue is like the nail version of lip gloss: high shine, high reward. Reviewers also love its staying power, saying it lasted “over a week” on nails.

SMITH & CULT Nail Lacquer in Bite Your Kiss
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SMITH & CULT Nail Lacquer

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Best Dark Polish:

Not only is the silver cap chic as can be, it also removes easily to reveal a smaller, easier-to-handle applicator. “I foresee myself going through the whole bottle before the end of the year,” said one user of this 8-free nail polish.

MISCHO BEAUTY Nail Lacquer in Unbroken
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MISCHO BEAUTY Nail Lacquer

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Best Greige:

Somewhere between gray, beige, and lavender, this shade is perfect if you want something muted but not boring. Reviewers call it a “beautiful earthy color” and claim it’s “chip resistant.”

MISCHO BEAUTY Nail Lacquer in Lacquer of Love
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MISCHO BEAUTY Nail Lacquer

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Best Purple:

This 10-free formula is deep, bold, and lasts forever without chipping. One Ipster even swears it “looks like I came from my salon and stays a full week.”

MISCHO BEAUTY Nail Lacquer in #NYFW
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MISCHO BEAUTY Nail Lacquer

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Best Navy:

Navy is unexpected, and this opaque, 10-free lacquer is one of the best we’ve seen. But don’t take our word for it: “Perfect for when I want something dark that's not black,” confirms one reviewer.

PRETTY WOMAN Nail Polish in Lovesick
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PRETTY WOMAN Nail Polish

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Best Classic Pink:

Sometimes we just want a pretty, goes-with-everything pink, and this 10-free polish is it. Even better, one Ipster says it is “hands down the longest nail polish has lasted on my nails.”

PRETTY WOMAN Nail Polish in Ex's and Oh's
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PRETTY WOMAN Nail Polish in Ex's and Oh's

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Best Bright Pink:

Reviewers especially love this “fabulous” 10-free shade for pedicures, but it’s great for an eye-catching mani too.

PRETTY WOMAN Nail Polish in Don't Be Jelly
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PRETTY WOMAN Nail Polish

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Best Berry:

So many Ipsters said they “love” this deep, flattering color, we lost count. Plus, it’s 10-free and super long-lasting.

DEFY & INSPIRE Nail Polish in Pinky Swear
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DEFY & INSPIRE Nail Polish

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Best for French Manicures:

This “shiny and smooth” polish is gorgeous on its own, but also makes a great blank canvas for French manicures and fun nail art.

WE ARE FLUIDE 7-Free Polish in Strut
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WE ARE FLUIDE 7-Free Polish

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Best Sparkly Blue:

We love a moody blue, but add a little sparkle and safe to say we’re obsessed. One reviewer even called it “MAGICAL,”—caps theirs, not ours.

WE ARE FLUIDE 7-Free Polish in Secret Project Robot
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WE ARE FLUIDE 7-Free Polish

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Best Bright Blue:

Is there anything more fun than a cobalt-blue mani? And pro tip from our Ipster community, who add that it’s the “perfect color for toenails.”

NAILMEDIC Nail Polish in Mauvy or Nice
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NAILMEDIC Nail Polish

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Best Fuchsia:

Not only does this 10-free polish leave out the ingredients you don’t want, but it also infuses nails with strengthening biotin. “Very cheerful for the winter months and I think it will wear well in spring, too,” said one reviewer of the pretty hue.

TRUST FUND BEAUTY Nail Polish in Adulting
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TRUST FUND BEAUTY Nail Polish

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Best Ballerina Pink:

Classic, trusty, and flattering, this slightly sheer shade is almost like foundation base coat for your nails. “This is the best nail polish I have ever used,” raved one Ipster, adding, “It lasts for days without a clear top coat.”

Want in on all the IPSY Glam Bag fun? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started. Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.

About the author
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Lindy Segal
Lindy is a contributor at IPSY, a beauty and lifestyle writer, and Real Housewives aficionado. She was an editor at People and Glamour, and her freelance work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Who What Wear, and Cosmopolitan, among other publications.
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Article Last Updated October 2, 2020 12:00 AM