Water-Based Nail Polish Exists, and Here Are Our Favorites

woman applying light pink nail polish


These days, we're painfully aware of potentially harmful or irritating chemicals present in our beauty and personal care products. We're collectively sifting through our tried-and-true routines to weed out anything with icky (or even questionable) ingredients. And it's not just us; it's society as a whole. For proof, just look to the clean beauty movement, which seems to be growing day by day as new, ethical, and transparent brands emerge onto the market. (We're not mad).

Most of the clean beauty buzz seems to surround the skincare and makeup categories, which is why so many people don't think to look for "clean" nail polish. That's surprising, considering some nail polish formulas are notorious for containing potentially harmful ingredients like formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate. Well, we're here to say that healthier alternatives to traditional nail polish do exist, and they're not as obscure as you might think.

We're talking about water-based nail polish, which is exactly like it sounds. These type of polishes replace the traditional chemical bases of polish formulas with (yep, you guessed it) water. That's why seeing a "water-based" bottle label is a good indication that the nail polish you're about to use is clean. They might not last as long as traditional formulas do, but many people choose to use them despite that for the peace of mind they provide. Keep scrolling to see the seven best water-based nail polishes to add to your clean beauty collection ASAP.

Sophi Nail Polish in Dance Lilac No One Is Watching $10.00

Sophi polishes are vegan, cruelty-free, nonflammable, and nontoxic (how's that for clean beauty?). They're also odorless and hypoallergenic. Just be sure to use the brand's Prime + Seal + Shine ($15) for durability. Also use a hair dryer, on a low setting, to dry the polish in-between coats. It might sound like a lot of extra work, but it's worth it for a clean manicure.

Acquarella Nail Polish in Incognito $16.00

Acquarella is another water-based polish brand that's free from most (if not all) traditionally harmful ingredients. What we admire most about it, though, has to be the wide range of shades it offers, from neutrals to moody colors, like this stormy blue called Incognito.

Suncoat Water-Based Nail Polish $12.00

Suncoat is one of the more popular water-based nail polish brands. It's formulated with 70% water, along with natural colors and pigments, so there's no chemical odor. The brand even offers peelable water-based polish, just in case you prefer removing it that way and forgoing the use of nail polish remover.

Little Ondine Nail Polish in Sweet Liquor $14.00

Little Odine's nail polish formula is mainly composed of water, clear resin, and colorants. That's basically it. There's not even any drying alcohol present, which means it's as healthy for your nails as it is for you.

Keeki Pure & Simple Nail Polish in Earl Grey Tea $10.00

Keeki Pure & Simple polishes can boast that they're safe for cancer patients and pregnant women. In fact, the brand calls itself "the safest on the planet." That's why health-conscious individuals will love using its polishes.

UNT Fantasy Peelable Nail Polish $7.00

UNT water-based nail polishes are another peelable formula. These ones are super affordable at only $7 per bottle. BRB, off to buy every shade under the sun.

Honeybee Gardens WaterColors Nail Enamel in Island Orchid $13.00

The last water-based nail polish recommendation we have is Honeybee Gardens. As you can attain from the name, this brand is all-natural and nontoxic. We like the shade Island Orchid, a (somehow) summery and tropical take on dark purple.

4 Other Nontoxic Nail Brands We Love

Habit Cosmetics Non-Toxic + Vegan Nail Polish in Cavalier $18.00

Habit Cosmetics offers nontoxic polishes that are vegan, cruelty-free, and naturally strengthening. Although they're not completely water-based, we love using the polish inside these chic wood-topped bottles since they last a full week without chipping and come in a rainbow of colors.

Sundays Nail Polish in No. 3 Opaque Cream Pink $18.00

If you're looking for the perfect shade of light pink, look no further than Sundays, which offers a number of variations that we imagine are collectively French girl–approved. (You might be familiar with the name if you've ever booked an appointment at any three of the brand's NYC salons).

Zoya Nail Lacquer $11.00

Zoya is a Byrdie favorite brand, as it's five-free (so formulated without formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, dibutyl phthalate, or camphor). Each polish is long-wearing, chip-resistant, and ultra-pigmented. We like the shade Tawny, which is a coppery rose gold.

Côte Shimmer Nail Polish in No. 13 Metallic Rose Gold $18.00

This brand of nail polish is a personal favorite. Côte polishes are free from the bad stuff, smooth and glassy, and long-lasting. I love all the brand's shades, though I have a particular love for No. 13, which is the perfect shimmery and metallic gold.

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