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For those who are looking to or are in the process of making the switch to cleaner beauty products, nail polish may not be high on the list of priorities, but perhaps it should be; traditional polishes are ladled with chemicals, and there have been some scary insights about the effects of being around nail polish fumes for long periods of time. We’re talking about issues such as interference with reproductive hormones, dizziness, headaches, and dry skin, just to name a few.
Happily, what was once a very small number of only niche brands offering non-toxic alternatives has now grown exponentially, with more options out there than ever before. You’ve likely seen the terms ‘3-free’ or ‘5-free’ on polish labels, which refers to the lack of some of the most commonly used chemicals. Most polish has been 3-free for over a decade, says celebrity nail artist Elle, meaning it doesn’t contain dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, or toluene. But moving even beyond that, there are now 5-free, 7-free, 9-free, and even 13-free formulas out there. The great news? Not only are these alternatives cleaner and safer, but you also don’t have to sacrifice any of the great qualities you want in a polish, like color, wear time, and shine.
Check out our go-to non-toxic nail polishes and see for yourself, below.
Best Overall: Zoya Nail Polish
Vegan and non-toxic, the polishes from this brand are free of 10 major chemicals. They’re also super easy to find and carried by many nail salons and spas; credit the incredible array (400, to be exact) of shades in a wide variety of colors and finishes. It’s a favorite brand of Elle’s, which lauds not only the limitless selection but also the brand’s emphasis and focus on nail health. FYI, while the included brush is small and precise, you can also buy a wider brush separately, a choice for easier application if you like to DIY your manicures.
Best Drugstore: Sally Hansen Good.Kind.Pure
Forget 5- or 7-free, this newbie (the mega nail brand’s first plant-based and 100% vegan product) is free of a whopping 16 chemicals, a choice drugstore pick for consumers trying to be more conscious about what products they’re using, says Elle. Also noteworthy: The plant-based brush that’s specially optimized to work with the innovative formula. Choose from a rainbow of 30 hues that offer a little something for everyone; there’s also a top coat and nail hardener available as well.
Best No-Chip: Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro
If chipped nails are the ultimate bane of your existence, you likely opt for gel manicures. Enter this non-toxic, no curing light-required alternative, which offers gel-like wear and shine. (And yes, it comes off with regular polish remover, no soaking required.) Free of seven common chemicals, it’s instead infused with 10 different ingredients that keep the color glossy and cushiony.
Best Cruelty-Free: Ella & Mila Nail Polish
Most of the non-toxic polishes out there are also vegan and cruelty-free, though this has the added benefit of being certified by PETA, a boon for animal lovers. Quick-drying and with plenty of shine, they’re 7-free and release new, on-trend colors often, too.
Best Shades: JINSoon Nail Lacquer
A-list celebs and beauty editors alike adore manicurist Jin Soon (and her sophisticated NYC salons) almost as much as they love her eponymous polish collection. The double-patented formula is unlike any other, with a silky texture, glossy finish, and insane color payoff. Speaking of colors, there’s a little something for everyone, from classic creams to of-the-moment trend shades. And yes, they’re all either 9- or 10-free, too.
Best Shades, Runner-Up: OOO Nail Lacquers
There are over 70 shades to choose from in this unique line from a brand that places a special emphasis on creating shades for women of color. No matter whether you love nudes or neons, there’s a polish out there for you. All of which are 8-free and vegan; bonus points for the unique names, named after queens and kings of West Africa.
What Our Editors Say
“I'm such a fan of OOO Polish—both the brand and the polishes. Offering more than 70 shades, this brand makes 8-free polishes made with women of color in mind. I constantly reach for a bottle of OOO Polish when I want to paint my nails or toes myself. My mom has fallen in love with the brand, too, pointing out that they're the only polish that lasts for weeks on her nails without chipping." —Olivia Hancock, Byrdie Associate Editor
Best Multi-Tasker: Orly Breathable Treatment + Color
Grab this bottle to seriously speed up your mani. The formula is a one-stop shop, acting as both a base and topcoat. (So, all you have to do is apply one or two coats of color.) Speaking of color, Elle calls out the “amazing and stylish” shades; the pigment is also infused with hydrating argan oil and good for your nails vitamins B5 and C. Per the name, it also touts a unique oxygen technology to promote oxygen flowing to your nail and is 13-free, too.
Best Splurge: Huella Nail Lacquer
A little pricey for a polish yes, but we like to think of it as not only nail polish but also as décor for our vanity, the bottles are that pretty. They are vegan, 10-free, and handcrafted in the USA—plus, all of the gorgeous colors are ultra-shiny and chip-resistant.
Best Nudes: Pear Nova Feelin' My Tiger Stripes - Classic Lacquer
Founder Rachel James created this brand not only to be a healthier and safer polish alternative (the formulas are all vegan, cruelty-free, and 10-free) but also to flatter all skin tones. The collection of colors is definitely on the smaller and more curated side, but they complement everyone, an especially noteworthy attribute when it comes to nudes. The nude shades in this line are chic and sophisticated and have a variety of undertones that work beautifully on pretty much anyone.
Best Reds: Tenoverten Nail Color
Fans of ruby tips will quickly tell you that not all reds are created equal, which is why we so appreciate the extensive range of red hues this brand offers. From rich berries to vibrant fire-engine, there’s something to fit every red preference. You can also create your own set of any three shades, ideal for those who like to mix and match their reds. The 8-free formula doesn’t contain chemicals like dibutyl phthalate (dbp), toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, or triphenyl phosphate (tphp).
Best Strengthening: Nailtopia Bio-Sourced Chip-Free Nail Lacquer
This formula is plant-based and 85% bio-sourced, relying largely on superfood ingredients more likely to show up in a smoothie than in nail polish. We’re talking things such as spinach, raspberries, and blueberries (yes, for real) coupled with plant-based protein to strengthen your tips with every swipe. Elle is a fan of both their environmentally-friendly ingredient sourcing and the chic packaging, as well as the range of on-trend colors.
Best Base & Top Coat: Côte Nail Strengthener Base and Top Coat
Polish colors may get all the attention, but the base and top coat are the true workhorses, ensuring any manicure stays chip-free. This one gets our vote not only for the non-toxic formula but also for the addition of strengthening vitamin B5 and coffee extract to help rehab weak or peeling nails. It pulls double duty as both a base and top coat (or use it solo as a treatment), and we’re big fans of the purse-friendly size.
Best Bargain: Olive & June JG
These 7-free polishes are not only super affordable (one will cost you less than a manicure), they’re also repeatedly lauded for their staying power. Not to mention that they also recently launched a convenient new tool called The Poppy, which makes it easier than ever to paint your own nails, saving you even more cash.
There are more non-toxic polishes out there than ever before. The Zoya Nail Polish (view at Ulta) gets our vote as best overall, a favorite among pro manicurists for the non-toxic formula that also prioritizes nail health. At the drugstore, pick up the Sally Hansen Good.Kind.Pure (view at Ulta), free of a laundry list of 16 different chemicals, the most we’ve ever seen in any polish. If your tips need a little extra TLC, try the plant-based, super strengthening Nailtopia Bio-Sourced Chip-Free Nail Lacquer (view at Ulta) or the Orly Breathable Treatment + Color (view at Ulta), which combines beautiful pigments with good-for-your nail ingredients.
What to Look for in a Non-Toxic Nail Polish
More Than 3-Free
According to Elle, it’s standard for the majority of brands to be 3-free these days, so seek out options that are 5- or 7-free (or more). “Brands who make these claims have to be tested to make sure they don’t contain those ingredients,” she says.
Buy From a Reputable Outlet
Yes, cosmetics do get counterfeited, cautions Elle. So even if a product claims to be non-toxic, the only way you can ensure you actually get what you think you’re getting is to buy from reputable beauty outlets, such as drugstores or big box stores, she says.
What makes a nail polish non-toxic?
As is the case with most cosmetics, there’s no governing body overseeing these claims. And, as mentioned, pretty much all brands are 3-free these days. Ideally, the higher that ‘free’ number, the more confident you can feel that you’re getting fewer questionable chemicals.
Do non-toxic nail polishes expire?
Yes, all nail polishes expire in the sense that they start to separate and won’t work as well. There’s no danger of bacterial contamination as there is, say, with expired mascara, but as a general rule of thumb, you should ditch any polish, non-toxic or not, once you notice the color changing and/or separating.
How long do non-toxic nail polishes last?
Use a good base and top coat, and they can last as long as any other polish. Innovations have made many of these non-toxic options as long-lasting as their counterparts; you can even find at-home, light-free gel polishes that are non-toxic if you really want serious staying power.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. As a regular manicure devotee and someone who is continuously trying to “clean up” her beauty routine, she’s all about the non-toxic polishes these days.
Meet the Expert
Elle is a celebrity nail artist in New York City and Los Angeles. Her clients include Jennifer Lopez, Charlize Theron, and Blake Lively.