These products were chosen based on top reviews, extensive research, and expert advice. The Good Housekeeping Institute’s Beauty Lab tests the latest nail and makeup products. Our beauty professionals shared their top picks for natural nail colors based on years in the industry and product testing.
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Sabina Wizemann (GH Institute Beauty Lab Senior Chemist) sorted through the choices to make sure they were free of potentially harmful ingredients. The nail polish brands included in this report have been vetted for safety and performance.
What does it mean to use “non-toxic” nail varnish?
Wizemann says that products are quickly removing toxic ingredients from formulas and that some brands offer vegan or gluten-free options. Many non-toxic polishes are 3-free. This means that they don’t contain formaldehyde or toluene, nor Dibutylphthalate. Here’s why:
According to the American Cancer Society, formaldehyde is a strong-smelling, colorless gas that can be used in nail polishes as a hardener. It has been linked to certain types of cancer including leukemia when it is in high levels. Although formaldehyde is a natural component of the environment and can be found in very small quantities in most living organisms it is still recognized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), as well as the Department of Health and Human Services as a carcinogen.
According to the EPA, Toluene, a colorless and sweet-smelling industrial solvent, temporarily affects the nervous systems and can cause severe eye and nose irritations, dizziness, and fatigue when inhaled. Although it is not considered a carcinogen or a teratogen (an agent that can disrupt the development of an embryo or foetus after prolonged exposure), it is still classified as a teratogen.
Inhaled dibutylphthalate (DBP), which is commonly used to increase material flexibility and reduce brittleness in plasticizers, can cause irritations, headaches, and dizziness.
Polishes can also be 10-, 14-, or 16-free. We have the following breakdown (thank goodness!) These formulae:
- 5-free contains no formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor
- 7-free contains no formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene
- 9-free contains no formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, parabens, acetone
- 10-free contains no formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, parabens, acetone, TPHP, TBHP, gluten
- 14-free is free of formaldehyde and toluene.
- 16-free contains no formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, parabens, acetone, TPHP, animal-derived ingredients, bisphenol A (BPA), sulfates, e-series glycol ethers, benzophenone 1, 2, nonylphenol ethoxylate
Wizemann says water-based formulas include non-synthetic colors and aqueous acrylic copmers. They are also odorless. They are easy to use, but they can be less durable than other types.
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Sabina Wizemann coordinated nail and makeup product testing by working with professionals and nail artists, as well as lab testing and large consumer studies. As a Senior Chemist at Good Housekeeping, she has evaluated and tested makeup foundations, concealers and lipsticks as well as tinted moisturizers.
Dori Price, beauty writer, has more than 15 years experience in researching and writing nail stories. She combines her industry knowledge with that of top professionals such as technicians, dermatologists, and nail artists. She is an expert on all aspects of nail products, including nail colors, nail treatments, professional services, and more.
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Paige Stables contributed to this article. She was an Assistant Beauty Editor at Good Housekeeping where she covered beauty products including nail colors and tools.