I don’t paint my nails often, but when I do paint them myself, I normally don’t stray from my tried-and-tested brands and colors. The same goes if I’m getting my nails done at the salon. I never really gave much thought to the nail polishes I was using aside from their shades.
But recently, I got a crash course in nail polish ingredients and learned more about the benefits of vegan and “clean” polishes. I’ve heard of the terms “5-free,” “7-free,” etc. before, but I never really knew what that meant, just that the polishes were free of certain chemicals and ingredients. The craziest thing I learned that I never really thought about before? There are animal products in some nail polishes!
“Vegan nail polish does not use any animal-derived ingredients or pigments, such as carmine (a red pigment that is obtained from cochineal insect shells), guanine (derived from fish scales and used for its shimmery effect), and oleic acid (derived from animal oils and used to thicken and add luster),” explains Barry Shields, managing partner at Nailtopia.
Even if you don’t subscribe to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, there are benefits to opting for a vegan nail polish. “The main benefit of vegan nail polish is that your nails are exposed to fewer harsh chemicals, and no animals are harmed in the production and testing process,” Shields says. “For Nailtopia specifically, our polishes are infused with natural AHA and PHA, which help absorb the ‘good for you’ vitamins in our formula to help strengthen, harden, and condition nails and cuticles.”
Credo’s product development manager, Allie Compton, adds that many vegan nail polishes are free of certain ingredients and harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, phthalates, and toluene. “Harmful formaldehyde resins are often used in conventional formulas to strengthen and repair the nail, but in some vegan formulas, there are often naturally derived nail strengthening and conditioning ingredients like vitamin B5 and vitamin A,” she says.
And what do those terms—5-free, 7-free, 8-free, etc.—mean? Compton says that free-of claims are determined by brands and that they’re not officially regulated or held to any standard. But in general, Shields says, “X-free means formulated without a certain number of toxic ingredients that are known to be harmful. One of the biggest risks to these harmful ingredients is the inhalation of their fumes.”
Here’s a general baseline for the ingredients, according to Shields.
5-Free: The formula is without the following ingredients: formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor.
7-Free: The formula is without the following ingredients: formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene.
17-Free: The formula is without the following ingredients: formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, acetone, phthalates (including DBP), parabens, triphenyl phosphate, animal-derived ingredients, styrene, bisphenol A, glycol ether of series E (glycol ethers derived from ethylene oxide), nonylphenol ethoxylate, sulfates, triclosan.
And you don’t have to worry about vegan nail polishes not being as good as the regular ones. Many of the formulas have longevity of wear and durability. “Many of the ‘toxic’ ingredients found in conventional nail polishes are added as cheap plasticizers, paint thinners, and hardeners, but there are many nontoxic replacements widely available that vegan and ‘clean’ nail polish brands utilize,” Compton says.
For best application, she recommends making sure your nails are completely clean and dry before applying the first coat for better longevity. “Use a gentle, nondrying hand sanitizer, like Credo’s Hand Sanitizer Spray, on your nail to remove any trace of oil or residue from your fingernail before applying the polish,” she says. “Definitely use a topcoat to further protect your polish and add shine. After your polish has dried, make sure you use a good hand cream or cuticle oil on your fingertips to prevent your polish from chipping quickly.”
Take a look at some of our favorite vegan nail polish brands below.
“Nailtopia specifically is 100% vegan and uses no animal-derived ingredients or harmful chemicals that can hurt the nails,” Shields says. “Our formulation is plant based, biosourced, superfood infused, all-free, and nontoxic. We also don’t test on animals, making our brand cruelty-free and Leaping Bunny Approved!”
All of Olive and June’s nail polishes are 7-free, vegan, and cruelty-free. They’re amazing because they’re so long-lasting, and they have a gel-like finish, so it looks like you got your nails done at the salon. Try the Poppy bottle handle to make painting your nails so much easier, especially if you have shaky hands!
J. Hannah is quickly becoming our favorite cool-girl polish brand. The shades are subtle and sophisticated. They’re nontoxic and cruelty-free, too.
Smith & Cult has a wide selection of colors, from nudes to metallics. The polishes are 8-free, vegan, and cruelty-free. Plus, the packaging is just so chic with the gold top.
Tenoverten has salons in New York, but if you can’t get to them, you can still enjoy the brand’s nontoxic, long-lasting polishes at home. Each polish is 8-free, vegan, and cruelty-free.
Nails Inc. has a range of vegan, cruelty-free, and 21-free nail polishes called Plant Power. There are a ton of hues and topcoats to choose from, and the polishes last a long time. The glass bottle has a recyclable and eco-friendly wooden cap, too.
JinSoon polishes are some of my favorites because the shades are so elegant, and they do a good job of conditioning the nails. Your nails will be left looking shiny and with rich color. The formula is 9/10-free and vegan-friendly and has a UV filter to protect against fading or yellowing.
No matter the look you’re going for, you’ll find a shade that works with Orly’s nail polishes. Seriously. You’ve got everything from neons to glitter to classic neutrals. They’re 12-free, vegan, and never tested on animals.
NCLA’s nail lacquers are 7-free, vegan, and cruelty-free. In just two coats, you’ll get perfect, salon-worthy coverage.
For a gel-like manicure without the UV lamps and the removal process, Deborah Lippmann’s Gel Lab Pro polishes are the real deal. The formula is 10-free, vegan, and cruelty-free. Plus, the polishes contain nourishing ingredients like evening primrose, keratin, biotin, green tea extract, aucoumea, and rice protein to condition and protect the nails.
Compton says Priti NYC is one of her favorite vegan nail polish brands. The polishes are free of toluene, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, TPHP, xylene, and parabens. The best news? There are over 80 shades to choose from.