Safer non-toxic nail polish (5-free? 8-free? what does that mean?)

March 14, 2017

After researching and trying safer nail polish, I thought I would share what I have learned.

Should I be concerned?

In case you’re wondering if this really matters, yes it does. Check out this New York Times article about nail salon workers developing illness due to their work environment. You know how bad nail salons smell. It is not good for us.

A growing body of medical research shows a link between the chemicals that make nail and beauty products useful … and serious health problems.

They come in usually with breathing problems, some symptoms similar to an allergy, and also asthma symptoms — they cannot breathe. Judging from the symptoms with these women, it seems that they are either smokers, secondhand smokers or asthma patients, but they are none of the above. They work for nail salons.

The good news is that there are a growing number of companies that do care and are drastically limiting or eliminating the most harmful chemicals from products.

Levels of safety

Basically for polish, safety is discussed in terms of 3-free up to 10-free, etc. That means that the polish is free from the top x number of the worst chemicals typically found in polish.

It’s frustrating because it can be hard to find ingredient information or safety designations. Some companies are very transparent and clearly state how they are trying to keep you safer and clearly state the ingredients.  Other companies do none of this. Also, I might see a polish listed in a magazine as 5-free or whatever and I can find no information from the actual company to back that up. Or, I see conflicting information. So, unless it is super obvious from the manufacturer, I don’t buy it.

No restrictions
This category would be for companies that are not trying to restrict any ingredients whatsoever, have no commitment to safety and are not transparent with their products.
Example Products: Things you might find on the shelf of your grocery store OR in lower end nail salons.

3-free (Some would consider this to be an outdated standard of safety)
Free of: formaldehyde, toluene, DPB
Example Products: Essie

Free of: formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, and camphor
Example Products: Zoya, Jamberry

Free of: Formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, and xylene.
Example Products: Côte, Butter London

Free of: Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBT), Camphor, Parabens, Triphenol Phosphate (TPHP) and Sulfates
Example Products: Aila, Smith & Cult, Butter London (8 free line, not all)

Free of:  formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, camphor, formaldehyde resin, xylene, parabens, fragrances, phthalates and animal ingredients
Example Products: Trust Fund Beauty, 100% Pure (I don’t recommend this one.)

Water Based
Finally, there are super safe polishes like Piggy Paint, made for kids, but it only lasts hours or maybe a couple days. It’s water based and a friend told me it can even peel off in a warm bath. There are others like Acquarella and Suncoat, too. I haven’t tried these, but I want to.

I guess your safest option is to use no polish at all.

How I choose

I have tried a handful and liked most of them, but I’m constantly striving for the safest and best performing.

I tried a polish on the highest end of safe, a 10-free 100% Pure polish, and it was a disaster. It chipped big time the very same day. If that’s all I had to choose from, I would not paint my nails.

My favorites so far are: 

  1. Smith & Cult
    I found a great balance with Smith & Cult.  They are 8-free, made in the USA, and I think it lasts slightly longer than wearing than a conventional polish. One slight negative is that while the packaging is beautiful, it is kind of awkward holding the large top when painting.
  2. Aila
    Aila is also 8-free and made in the USA. I absolutely love their top coat. It’s called Better Than Gel and it is long-wearing and really shiny. I also tried Aila’s nail polish remover. I think removers are the worst. Just sniffing acetone and acetate removers makes me feel ill. Aila’s is a 100% natural, plant-based remover. It does work, but it takes more time and work than conventional removers to get the polish off.
  3. Butter London
    Great quality and great color selection.  These are 7 or 8 free. Obviously, I would recommend the 8-free options.
  4. Zoya
    I think Zoya gets an honorable mention because it is a good choice if you are weighing cost and safety as it is $9 per bottle and is 5-free. One thing that irked me about Zoya was that I couldn’t find information on their website, but Amazon has a picture of the box where it says 5-free on it and lists the ingredients.

You have to decide what’s right for you. What level of safety you are comfortable with.


1, 2, 4 – Smith & Cult
3, 6, 7 – Aila
5 – Zoya
8 – Butter London

This one below is Doe My Dear by Smith & Cult. It is such a great year-round neutral. It’s like griege (gray + beige). It looks brown in the product photo above this, but it’s not.

Doe My Dear 8-free safe nail polish by Smith & Cult - whitneyanderick.com

Safety Tips

  1. Paint your own nails at home with safer products.
  2. If you do go to a salon, limit the frequency or consider wearing a mask.

Anyone have any other information or tips they would like to share?

Learn more

See more safe beauty posts or holistic living posts.
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