One whiff of the average high street nail polish will confirm that its crammed with all manner of chemicals. Many a freshly lacquered manicure will include the ‘toxic three’ – that is, formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and toluene, and may well contain a wider range of chemical ingredients including formaldehyde resin, camphor triphenyl and phosphate (TPHP).
While there’s no high-level health risk attached to nail care products containing these chemicals, non-toxic polishes are kinder to our nails, cuticles and the delicate skin on our fingertips, and are less likely to dry out nails and skin, or cause irritation. Non-toxic nail varnishes are also a safer, healthier option for nail technicians who work with the products on a daily basis.
Want to differentiate a non-toxic polish from one laden with chemicals? Today, non-toxic nail brands are marked with a ‘free’ label, ‘3-free’ being the most common. Elsewhere, the vegan nail care market is also surging, as more polishes formulated without animal-derived products or animal testing infiltrate beauty counters. This sector of the market is increasingly sophisticated, standing up to competitors in terms of durability and finish.
Based on colourway, chip-resistance, shine and ease of application, here are our favourite varnishes.
Translating to ‘take care of’ in English, luxury nail aficionados Soigné focus on the long-term nail health and the impact its products make on the environment. That translates to an 85% plant-based, natural vegan formula free from nasty carcinogens, with no animal testing. Soigné does an especially chic line of creamy muted colourways, such as Praline, Café and Caramel.
This gem of a brand was founded in 2012 by Sonia Hully. Since its early years as a luxury Nail Bar in London’s Chelsea, Nailberry has evolved into an award-winning non-toxic polish powerhouse with a celebrity clientele. 12 free, certified vegan, cruelty free and halal, the formula delivers on its promise of high impact colour and long-wear. Try the L’Oxygéné line, which uses the latest technology to allow air and water vapour to pass through to your nail, keeping it quenched.
French gurus of nail care Kure Bazaar have refined an up to 85% natural formula derived from (yes, really) corn, potatoes, cotton, wood pulp and corn. Available in fiery summer-ready colourways like emergency orange ‘Afrika’ and hot pink ‘Kelly’, the range is vibrant, durable and a top-scorer for precision application.
Smith & Cult
Masterminded by cult beauty maestro Dineh Mohajer, Smith & Cult’s upscale polishes boast an 8-free chemical count and come housed in eye-catching dinky bottles with textured gold tops. Available in 35 shades, the vegan, cruelty-free collection includes a host of iridescent tones, such as the baby pink and platinum A Little Lovely shade.
When it comes to vegan and non-toxic nail polish, the team at ZOYA were of the curve. The professional lacquer line claim to be the first vegan-friendly and big 10-free brand of its kind back in the early 90s, and holds favour thanks to its reasonable price points, slender precision brushes and enduring glossy finish. Not to mention an array of gorgeous metallic colourways which are perfect for festival season.
This LA-born vegan brand was founded in the 1970s by Jeff Pink, the man who created the iconic French manicure, and has carved out a niche for itself with its excellent breathable range. Free from 13 chemicals featured in many nail care brands, its high-pigment formula glides on easily for a quick-drying, long-lasting finish, and is infused with vitamins and Argan oil to nourish and replenish nails.
Words: Mary-Jane Wiltsher