Wellness / Self-Care

What’s the deal with Vegan Nail Polish?

It’s the cleaner way to do fun nails.

words by: Natasha Marsh
Aug 1, 2022

Between organic food, recycled clothing, and upcycled fragrances, the clean and sustainable movement has entered every area of our lives. The latest contender: Vegan nail polish.


It makes you wonder, what’s in regular nail polish that makes it non-vegan? Food and beverages that derive from farm animals are considered non-vegan. In cosmetics, skincare, and personal care products, things that are tested on animals are a no-no for eco-friendly consumers. But it wouldn’t seem logical to test nail polish on animals. Or for it to be made of bees or other animals. So what constitutes a nail polish to be vegan?


What makes a nail polish vegan?

Essentially, there are some questionable ingredients lurking in traditional nail polish. These pesky ingredients can include a nail hardener known as formaldehyde, a cracking-free ingredient known as dibutyl phthalate, and a smoothing agent known as toluene. All of these ingredients are toxic and not very good for nail health.


That is why the clean beauty movement has impacted brands and customers into creating and demanding nail polish options that support eco-conscious ethos. Vegan nail polish can be displayed as “5-free,” “10-free,” and even “15-free” instead of “clean,” “green,” and “non-toxic,” speaking to the amount of toxic ingredients it doesn’t have.


Is it cruelty-free too?

Sadly, just because a nail polish is vegan does not mean it’s cruelty-free, — it can be called vegan but still tested on animals. If this is a big deal for you, look for vegan and cruelty-free products. Apart from dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, and toluene, most traditional toxic nail polish have loads of ingredients from animals like beetles and fish scales. Think about carmine, the ingredient that makes the color red, this is generally derived from shells of a female cochineal insect, whereas guanine (the ingredient used for shimmer) is taken from fish scales. Not to mention oleic acid, which is used for chip-resistant manicures, and comes from animal fat.


What to look for

So when you see vegan nail polish, it will generally say 3-free, 5-free, 7-free, 10-free, 15-free, and even 21-free on the label that will signify the absence of certain toxic ingredients. The most common ones being formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, camphor, and formaldehyde resin.


As discussed, formaldehyde is used as a nail hardening agent and also a disinfectant for nail care tools. However, it is also used to preserve the corpses of animals and sometimes human bodies. Dibutyl phthalate has been linked to developmental and reproductive issues. Whereas toluene is used to smooth nails and has been linked to respiratory toxicants. Next, camphor acts as a barrier to protect natural nutrients but can also cause nausea, dizziness, or seizures. Formaldehyde resin makes nails strong and shiny but is also known for causing skin allergies like dermatitis.


When you opt for vegan nail polish, you can be sure that no animals were used or harmed to create the polish. Even better, you’ll feel safe knowing no weird or damaging chemicals will seep into your skin — big news for nail biters. Plus, although vegan nail polish are plant-based, they can still last up to two weeks, depending on how well you take care of it.


Here’s our 4 most popular nail art and nail polish brands for men and your DIY guide to removing gel nail polish.


Photo via Amazon