When I was younger, I was so concerned about my hair and skin, I spent all of my effort into researching skincare and makeup. It took me a little while to consider the toxic and pungent cocktail called nail polish but once I stopped applying it, I haven’t looked back!
What is Nail Polish?
An early version of nail polish actually originated in China. Conventional nail polish as we know it today was inspired by automobile paint. The 3 main ingredients of concern (which are the major focus of marketing when it comes to newer nail polish lines) are Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde.
These ingredients are becoming less and less common and now companies are are even formulating polish that are 3 Free, 5 Free, 7 Free & 10 Free.
What Does 3 Free, 5 Free, 7 Free & 10 Free actually mean?
I won’t lie, it took me a bit of reading to understand these terms. There are some companies who proclaim to be 12 Free, who you would think would be the cleanest but they still include known problematic ingredients. Another marketing ploy some companies use is claiming to be gluten-free but nail polish is never formulated with gluten to begin with.
To keep it simple, these are the main 7 ingredients of concern:
Benzophenone -1, Formaldehyde, Dibutyl Phthlate, Toluene, Tosylamide/ Formaldehyde Resin, Synthetic Camphor, Xylene
When brands advertise they are # Free, they normally exclude the following ingredients.
Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde free
5 Free formulas are free of Formaldehyde, Dibutyl Phthlate, Toluene as well as Formaldehyde Resin or Camphor
7 Free formulas tend to remove the previously mentioned ingredients, as well as parabens, Ethyl Tosylamide and Andxylene
10 Free often remove parabens, fragrances, phthalates, and animal ingredients on top of the well known questionable ingredients.
If I was Going to Wear Nail Polish …
I’ve come to accept that true nail polish is not something that can ever be made completely toxin free. By it’s nature it is lacquer and needs chemicals to perform. My biggest issue, without a doubt, is the smell. That’s without cracking open the nail polish remover! The technical term for this, is VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which is what gives nail polish and remover that horrid, headache inducing scent. Whenever I look for nail polish is has to be odourless and easily removable. It also has to last at least a day and not be washable with soap and water. Unluckily (or luckily, whichever way you want to look at it) this narrows my search down considerably to these options: water based, peelable or nail wraps.
Water Based Nail Polish
I’ve only tried one water based polish and my issue was that it was a lot of work and a long wait for it to not properly set. I’d do it hours before bed and still wake up with it smudged from merely rubbing on the sheets. It also disintegrated so easily, just through doing dishes or cutting food. Although, weirdly enough it lasted so long on my toenails! Another thing I disagree with, is buffing the surface of your nail. It makes the application smooth but it weakens your nail so it’s hardly worth it to me.
I tried this company almost 10 years ago. It’s great to see that they are still going and they’ve expanded their range. For colour range alone, they’re by far the best, with almost 90 options. It’s water based, so you have to apply it without the expectations of a conventional nail polish. The colour I had was a dark blue and it was opaque with a two thin layers, odourless and easy to apply. As they only ship within the US, I’ve contacted the company and they advised me the best way for Australians to buy their polish is through the stockist: Pure Nature 24.
Ingredients: Aqua, Styrene Acrylates Copolymer, Acrylates Copolymer. (+/-) CI 77489, CI 77492, Mica, CI 77891 and/or CI 77499.
A company well-known for non-toxic cosmetics, they have a ’12 Free’ formula, which is also water based. While I haven’t had personal experience of this brand, they do claim they are odourless. From a quick look of their ingredients, they’re similar to Acquarella, so it would come down to performance. They ship internationally from the US.
Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Acrylates copolymer. (+/-) Iron Oxides (CI 77490), Mica (CI 77019), Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Ultramarine Blue (CI 77007)
This is an American brand, which seems to only be available here in Australia unfortunately, but it does look like they have a good range of colours. From their US site, they ship to Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, UK, US.
Ingredients: Water, Acrylates copolymer, Neem Oil. (+/-): Red 7, Red 34, Red 28, Red 17, Iron oxide, Titanium dioxide, Ultramarines, Chrome Green, Mica, Violet 2.
Another brand made in the US, with quite an array of colours, which they claim is biodegradable.
Ingredients: Water, acrylate copolymer emulsion, glycol ethers. May contain mica (CI 77019), red (CI 15850), blue (CI 77007), white (CI 77891), green (CI 77289) or black (CI 77499) pigments.
Nailmatic are based in France and have a two products, one being the Aqua Nail, which they claim is odourless. They only ship within the EU, but for Australian customers, you can purchase them from Until.com.au
I’ve just recently reviewed Nailmatic, so if you would like to read my thoughts & see some swatches, you can find it here: Nailmatic Aqua Nail Review & Swatches – Anzu, Haley, Hazel & Björk
Ingredients: aqua, ethylhexyl acrylate/styrene copolymer, acrylates copolymer, ammonium acrylates/methylstyrene/styrene copolymer, trimethyl hydroxypentyl isobutyrate, propanediol, phenoxyethanol, pentylene glycol, ppg-2 methyl ether, bentonite, peg-40 castor oil, ppg-30 butyl ether, propylene glycol, peg-150/decyl alcohol/smdi copolymer, xanthan gum, ethylhexylglycerin, styrene/acrylates copolymer, ammonium acrylates copolymer, hydrolyzed corn protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein, hydrolyzed soy protein, aminomethyl propanol, silica dimethyl silylate, leuconostoc/radish root ferment filtrate, disiloxane, disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, sodium lauryl sulfate, caprylyl glycol, tocopherol, ci 77499 (iron oxides), ci 15850 (red 7 lake), ci 15880 (red 34 lake).
A company based in Hawaii, their products are water based and made without VOC’s or microplastics. Their acrylates copolymer dissolves after prolonged exposure to water. The ship to a wide range of countries.
Ingredients: water, acrylates copolymer. (may contain red and/or violet lakes, ultramarine blue, and/or titanium, chromium, and iron oxides)
Shipping is limited to the EU unfortunately, but they do have some beautiful colours and a very similar finish to conventional nail polish.
Ingredients: Aqua, Ethylhexyl Acrylates/Styrene Copolymer, Acrylates Copolymer, Ammonium Acrylates/Methylstyrenes/Styrene Copolymer, Trimethyl Hydroxypentyl Isobutyrate, Propanediol, Pentylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, PPG-2 Methyl Ether, Bentonite, PPG-30 Butyl Ether, Propylene Glycol, PEG-150/Decyl Alcohol/SMDI Copolymer, Xanthan Gum, Ethylhexylglycerol, Ammonium Acrylate Copolymer, Tocopheryl Acetate, PEG-40 Castor Oil, Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Aminomethyl Propanol, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Caprylyl Glycol, Calcium Pantothenate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Tocopherol, CI 77891, CI 12085, CI 77492.
For Australians, you can purchase them directly from their Australian webpage. As the products are aimed at children, they have many bold, vibrant colours. Their US site ships to most countries.
Ingredients: Aqua, acrylates copolymer, melia azadirachta (neem oil). (+/-) ultramarines, iron oxide, titanium dioxide, mica, red 28, red 34, red 22, red 7, yellow 10, violet 2, zinc sulfide/copper, chrome green, orange 5.
You can find a 5-free nail polish range from this Canadian company, but they do have 4 shades in their Princess Polish range which is water based. I believe they ship worldwide.
Ingredients: Water, Acrylates Copolymer, Butoxy Diglycol, Methylisothiazolinone, Hydroxxethylcellulose, Mineral Pigments: Ultramarines, Iron Oxide, Titanium Dioxide, Mica, OR Chromium Hydroxide Green
Peelable Nail Polish
My biggest issue with water based nail polishes is that they’re still a pain to remove. I had to sit for ages with Acquarella polish remover and I still had to scrub. This is why I love the idea of peelable polishes.
They have a range of peelable nail polish and typical water-based polish. Neither ranges are vegan though, as they use carmine as a colourant. They ship world wide.
Water-based Nail Polish Ingredients: Aqua (~65%), acrylate copolymer / styrene-acrylate copolymer (~28%) (all under 4%): propylene glycol n-butyl ether, dipropylene glycol dibenzoate [+/-] mica (CI 77019), titanium dioxide (CI 77891), ferric ferrocyanide, iron oxide (CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499), chromium oxide (CI 77288), carmine (CI 75470)
The Peelables Ingredients: Water, polyvinyl acetate, acrylate copolymer. [+/-] mica, iron oxides, titanium dioxide, chromium oxide green, ultramarines, ferric ferrocyanide, carmine, polyethylene terephthalate ( glitter).
Made in Canada but an Australian based company, this children’s company offers four colours and nail stickers.
Ingredients: Water (aqua), acrylic copolymers. (+/-) Mica, iron oxides, titanium dioxide, ultramarine blue
Based in the UK, they have their own huge range of gel polish, as well as a smaller range of peelable nail polish. They currently only ship within the UK.
I couldn’t find a complete list of ingredients, but they are 5 free (free of Toluene, DBP, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin and Camphor), vegan, non-flammable and an organic solvent-free formula.
An Australian brand with gel and peelable nail polish. They claim that both their lines are free of fumes. They ship Australia wide.
Ingredients: Polyurethane-1, propylene glycol, stearalkonium bentonite, water. (+/-) CI77891, CI19140, CI77510, CI15850, CI77019, CI77499, CI15880, CI77742, CI77491
A brand based in Taiwan, they have two ranges, but also a big range of peelable nail polish. They also have a peelable clear base coat which is pretty well known. They ship internationally, although there are a few exclusions.
Ingredients: Water, Polyurethane-11, Methyl Pyrrolidone, Alcohol, Lithium Magnesium Sodium Silicate, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate, Simethicone. [ +/- Glucosyl Stevioside, Polysorbate60, Alcohol Denat., CI 77891, Phenoxyethanol, Polyethylene Terephthalate, Ammonium Acrylate Copolymer, Butylene Glycol, PPG-2 Methyl Ether, CI 73360, Methylpropanediol, Synthetic Fluorphlogopite, CI 77007, Maltodextrin, CI 77491, Calcium Titanium Borosilicate, CI 77492, CI 11680, Pentylene Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, CI 77019, CI 74160, Calcium Sodium Borosilicate, Ammonium Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, CI 77266, PEG-40 Castor Oil, 1,2-Hexanediol, Bentonite, Hydroxyacetophenone, Acrylates Copolymer, Ethylene/VA Copolymer, PPG-26-Buteth-26, CI 77499, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Laureth-21, Dimethicone, CI 77000, Glycerin, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Caprylyl Glycol, Isobutylphenoxy Epoxy Resin, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Titanium/Titanium Dioxide, CI 77861, CI 15850:1, Aminomethyl Propanol, Triethanolamine, Tocopheryl Acetate, Sodium Dehydroacetate, CI 42090, Camellia Sinensis Seed Extract, o-Phenylphenol, CI 19140.]
The only Australian company I’ve found with a large range of colourful peelable nail polish. This one I have tried (you can find my review here). They ship to a number of different countries.
Ingredients: 66% Aqua, Mineral pigments, Polyurethane resin
An Australian company with a formula that is 70% water and 30% colourants. They have some colours suited for children, including glitters. They only ship within Australia.
They don’t break down the complete ingredient list but it is certified by SGS Testing and does not contain toxic chemicals such as toluene, formaldehyde, plasticizer, melamine resin, camphor, bisphenol A or any organic solvents.
If you’re after peel off base coats so you can use conventional nail polish but avoid the hassle of removal, this Australian brand has a clear, black and white version. They ship within Australia, but do have stockists in Canada, EU, USA, UK & New Zealand.
Ingredients: Polyurethane, Acrylates Copolyer, Stearalkonium hectorite, Propylene Glycol, Water.
Namaki are based in France and they offer a range of polish without solvents and odours. They ship to France, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, UK & Switzerland.
Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Polyurethane-61, Ethylhexyl Acrylate/Styrene Copolymer, PPG-2 Methyl Ether, Silica, Mica, Tocopherol, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Propylene Glycol, PEG-150/Decyl Alcohol/SMDI Copolymer, PPG-30 Butyl Ether, Ethylhexylglycerin, PEG-40 Castor Oil, Ammonium Acrylates Copolymer, Tin Oxide, Ammonium Hydroxide, Bentonite, Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Aminomethyl Propanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Phenoxyethanol, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, CI 77891 (Titanium Dioxide), CI 77492 (Iron Oxides), CI 77491 (Iron Oxides), CI 73360 (Red 30 Lake)
Predominately a makeup brand, this company do have a range of peelable nail polish that is available in Malaysia. They currently ship to Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Brunei & Singapore.
Ingredients: Water-Based Resin, Aqua, Olive Oil, Carbon Black (Cl 77266), Titanium Dioxide (Cl 77891), Red 30 (Cl 73360), Red 34 (Cl 15880), Pigment Blue 15 (Cl 74160), Pigment Green 7 (Cl 74260), Yellow 5 (Cl 19140), Violet 2 (Cl 60725), Ultramarine (Cl 77007), Mica (Cl 77019), Aluminium Powder, Polyurethane -1, Ethylene / Acrylic Acid, Copolymer Sodium, Dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Stearalkonium Bentonite
This children’s company is based in the UK, though made in France. They have a nice range of colours and glitters. They ship world wide.
Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Polyurethane-61, Ppg-2 Methyl Ether, Silica, Disiloxane, Peg-150/Decyl Alcohol/Smdi Copolymer, Ethylhexylglycerin, Bentonite, Ammonium Hydroxyde, Phenoxyethanol, Propylene Glycol, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Tocopherol
Another French company, these children’s polishes are peelable, but I thought I should mention they have fragrance added.
Ingredients: Aqua, Polyurethane-61, Silica, PPG-2 Methyl ether, CI 15850 (Red 7 Lake) Phenoxyethanol, Sodium dehydroacetate, parfum, PEG-40 Castor Oil, CI 77891 (titanium dioxide), propylene glycol, PEG-150/Decyl Alcohol/SMDI Copolymer, PPG-30 butyl ether, ethylhexylglycerin, CI 77007 (ultramarines), ammonium hydroxide, bentonite, aminomethyl propanol, silica dimethyl silylate, tocopherol & BHT
I have seen that Miniso have a small peelable nail polish range, however their website isn’t the best to navigate and I can’t visit a store at the moment to check stock. You might have better luck in store or on one of their other websites. Miniso have stores all around the world with corresponding websites.
Ingredients: Water, Polyurethane-2, Acrylates Copolymer, Sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate, stearalkonium bentonite, phenoxyethanol, parfum, glycerin, FD&C Red
I’ve only heard of Color Club in passing, but if you’re an avid nail polish fan, you’re probably aware of them. They specialize in nail products, but also have a smaller range called the Water Colours. They are 18-free, peelable nail polish which is free of: Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Camphor, Coal Tar, DBP, FD&C, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde-like Derivatives, Gluten, Ketones, Lead, Mercury, Parabens, Petrochemical Solvents, Phthalates, Polyurethane, Polyurethane Film-formers, Toluene & Wheat By-Products. They ship worldwide.
They have a small range of peelable nail polishes, including some glitter ones that look amazing. I have read some really mixed reviews from customers though regarding shipping and customer service, so it might be buy at your own risk. I couldn’t find an ingredients list either, but that information might be floating around on a nail blog. They ship worldwide.
They have a wide array of colours and glitters in a water base polish, which can be removed with alcohol, nail polish remover or simply by peeling up by laying tape over the nail bed, and peeling off. They do have added fragrance, which is only listed as parfum. They ship to some international countries, including: Australia China, France, Mexico, Netherlands, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Macao & Phillipines.
Ingredients: Aqua, Polyurethane-1, ethylene/acrylic acid copolymer, sodium dodecylbezenesulfonate, stearalkonium bentonite, phenoxyethanol, parfum (+/-) CI77891, CI77499, CI11710, CI74260, CI77491, CI73915, CI51319, CI15865, CI15850, CI74160
A newer company from what I can tell, this brand offers peelable nail polish that is free from 18 toxins, they claim is odourless. Interestingly they have the only odourless matte top coat I’ve been able to find. They have separate webpages for their respective countries: Bloop USA, Bloop Bloop (AU & HK), and Bloop MY.
Ingredients: Polyurethane-1, Propylene Glycol, Stearalkonium Bentonite, Hyaluronic acid, May Contain CI77449, CI77510, CI77289, CI77742, CI77891, CI77019, CI77491, CI15850, CI17200, CI15985
Peelaboo are based in New York, with a peelable range that is non-toxic and 14-free. I couldn’t find an ingredient list, but they claim to be without harsh odour.
The next best alternative for anyone wanting polished nails, without the odour, is nail wraps. I’ve noticed ones made from traditional nail polish (already dried though, so no smell) and others made from gel, which means you also need a UV curing lamp.
There are a few online stores now selling these wraps, though I first saw in them in a David Jones department store. The best ones are made with nail polish, but dried into individual stickers which can be molded to your own nails. One of my issues with these is that they work best with a clear coat, though if you’re to wear them for a day, they are a good alternative. The ones I’ve tried are from Personail. The ingredients of these will vary from brand to brand.
That completes, what I hope is a pretty comprehensive list of alternative options for traditional nail polish. I’m always on the look out for more so if you know of any let me know in the comments below.
6 Comments Add yours
Hello! I found this article very useful because I too am always looking for water-based nail polishes as I have problems with strong sensitivity to odors with my nose. Until recently I used Little Ondine but now the company practically no longer produces nail polishes but cosmetics. I wanted to ask you, in your opinion, among all these brands which glazes are completely odorless, because with some such as Honeybee Gardens and Gitti I still found a smell of paint in the house, light but present. Here I was looking for a nail polish that was like my beloved Little Ondine, completely odorless. Thank you!
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Hi there, thank you for commenting! I’m glad you found my list useful. Unfortunately I have only tried Acquarella, Carlo Rista and Nailmatic. From what I remember Acquarella didn’t have much of a scent (that was back when I wasn’t as sensitive though). They have similar ingredients to Honeybee Gardens though, so if you’re bothered by that one, you might not have any luck. Carlo Rista is tolerable for me, but there is that slight hint of odour. Nailmatic are also ok, but theirs is slightly stronger again, especially the clear top coat. I’m sorry I can’t be more help!
Instead you have been very helpful to me so I avoid throwing myself spending money on Acquarella if you tell me that the more the less it smells like Honeybee Gardens. Do you know the Little Ondine brand? Just think that until recently they had a range of 80 colors, a very wide range … today everything has been reduced to about 15 colors and they no longer even have the transparent that was the base and top coat. If I’m looking for it is basically their fault, I was fine and it was my favorite brand … but it seems to be ending like this 😢
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I had only just started trying to find nail polish to use again when I discovered Little Ondine. I was going to try to order but they they said they were stopping production! I was so disappointed! If you’re after another peel off nail polish maybe look for reviews on Unt. I’ve heard they’re good but I have no idea if they have an odour. Another brand I know of but haven’t tried is Lanvi Kids. Otherwise Carlo Rista are pretty good in my opinion. It does sound like you’re more sensitive than me unfortunately so they might not be ok for you. Good luck!
Hi. I have recently started using nail polish strips and love the convenience and great designs. Some claim to be non toxic but all that I have seen contain aluminum. Do you know of any that are toxin free or close to it , including aluminum free? I do use a few coats of non toxic clear base underneath them but still wondering if that aluminum can leach through the base coat. Any ideas where I might find that answer?
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Hey Lili, interesting question! I have no idea unfortunately. My only suggestion would be to find a brand that discloses their ingredients so you can make sure you’re avoiding aluminium. I also have no idea whether it could leech through a base coat. I’m not sure any trace amounts would be pose too much danger, especially if you’re already being so careful. Hopefully you can find the answers somewhere!