How to Avoid Nail Polish Toxins: 2 Brands to Try.

3-FREE was a huge win when it came to reducing toxins in nail polish.

The ‘toxic trio’ many removed:

  • toluene,
  • dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and
  • formaldehyde

Unfortunately, 3- free, 6 free, even 16 free doesn’t mean toxic-free.

Consider a simple self care swap to avoid toxins in your nail polish. I’ll share 2 Brands I’m going to try and why.

A bottle of my nail polish cracked and the fumes were so strong it got me thinking there is NO way this is not toxic. I was right.


  • How something called regrettable substitution makes avoiding nail polish toxicity more confusing.
  • Look beyond the marketing label. Focus on the list of ingredients IN the nail polish instead.
  • The 2 brands I’ve ordered to try first and why.

Regrettable substitutions make avoiding nail polish toxins more confusing if not impossible.

The reason it is close to impossible to figure out which nail polishes are safe is something called– regrettable substitution.

“Regrettable substitution is when one chemical is banned, only to be replaced with another chemical just as harmful, or potentially worse 1 (color added)

Advertisers can make claims that are true like: 3 FREE, 6 FREE, 10 FREE… and at the same time leave out the fact that the substitutions have health risks and at times these substitutions regrettably can be worse for our wellness and health!

Top that off with the fact that- 🔗 none of the claims of ‘Non-toxic’ ‘Natural’ or ‘Safe’ need premarket approval in the nail polish industry.2

“Regrettable substitution can occur because the U.S. lacks a regulatory structure to motivate proactive consideration of health risks of replacement chemicals”2

It became more confusing than ever

As I read through the plethora of articles claiming the best or least toxic nail polishes it became more confusing than ever. That’s when I knew it was time to hunker down, read the research available and figure out the simplest way to find the safest nail polish.

After spending the entire month reading what’s out there it seemed like the same claims were being regurgitated in blogs. I still didn’t know for certain which nail polishes would be safe.

I moved from looking at what ingredients were left out to focusing on what ingredients were IN the nail polish.

LOOK at the ingredients IN the Nail Polish.

I created a list of the typical ingredients I was finding in the polishes labeled as x-FREE or non-toxic/natural. I looked at the personal care councils CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) first to see which ingredients were on which lists. Safe, unsafe, Safe for type of use etc. then

This graphic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License: Andy Brunning

I pulled up research articles on the various chemicals. (I’ve listed some of the research at the end) One of the things I found was this great Chemistry of Nail Polishes infographic.

Lastly, I searched the EWG (Environmental Working Group) data on its SKIN DEEP pages under Nails.

Let me tell you I was stymied

I was baffled by what was in the nail polish I was presently using. Both brands were touted as EXCELLENT being 6 ‘free’ and 10 ‘free’.

The best rating of the 2 nail polish brands I have been using was a 5. The other a 6!

That’s out of a 10 scale. 1 being the best 10 the worst.

Cosmetics/shampoos etc that I use are 2 and under. Over 2 and I’m looking for an alternative.

And what REALLY blew me away- look at the use restrictions category. BOTH nail polish brands I use in the red!

EWG rating Avoid Nail Polish Toxicity

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EWG rating of nail polish I used

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This was greatly disappointing – yet not surprising. The ingredients are not listed on the bottle. I know they did not come in a box. Until I looked them up online and read through the ingredients I was fully under the impression they were a safe choice and yet the Use Restriction for both were in the RED!

Use restricition EWG Avoiding nail polish toxicity rating of nail polish i use

3 free, 5 free, 10 free even 16 free… can literally be undone due to regrettable substitutions.

Here I was feeling pleased about the improvements nail polish products are making. Each year removing a longer list of ‘known’ toxins only to find out going ‘greener’ ‘cleaner” with 3 then 5, free, 10 free even 16 free… can literally be undone due to regrettable substitutions.

All my nail polish went into the garbage immediately! (and then I took them out and placed them with the paint cans we will properly bring to the dump.)

In the article The Continual Regrettable Substitution of Nail Polish Ingredients from Harvard Public Health 🔗 If you have high interest in the subject it is a good read> there are 2 quotes I’d like to bring to your attention:

1 is an example specific how “greener’ “cleaner” nail polish falsely leads us to assume they are safer:

“Recent progress from “3-Free” to “10-Free” labels seems both hair-raising (why were those toxic chemicals in the products in the first place?) and promising (toxic chemicals have been removed!). But the evolving labels may provide false reassurances in some instances. Instead of the “Toxic Trio” plasticizer dibutyl phthalate, many nail polishes now contain an alternative plasticizer, triphenyl phosphate, which also has reproductive toxicity concerns.

2 Todays Safe- Nontoxic-Natural labels are misleading.

“Nail salon employees and consumers (and even us researchers!) typically don’t understand all the chemicals listed on ingredient labels. Instead, many health-conscious nail polish purchasers look to marketing labels. “Safe,” “Natural,” and “Non-Toxic” labels exude safety reassurance and trustworthiness” but they are misleading.

The conclusion I came to-

The SIMPLEST and safest way to avoid toxins in nail polish is to look at what is IN the nail polish instead of relying on the marketing label that lists what was left out.

Like when choosing what we eat. Labels on the front of the package can be misleading so we look at the complete ingredients list.

Woman looking at the back of food label

Looking at the list of ingredients of the Non-toxic ‘Safe’ Polishes turned out to be murky.

Take a look at this ‘clean’ list on a nail polish label. They are actually clean. But if you did not research each one it’d be hard to know. This was still not the product choice for me.

clean list of nail polish ingredients

For weeks I kept searching.

I kept going back and combing through the hundreds of posted articles that listed their *Best non-toxic nail polishes or proclaimed the complete buying guides to the best non-toxic nail polish brands.

I literally went through their lists only to find the brands repeatedly came up short because of regrettable substitutions in their non-toxic- natural-safe ‘clean’ nail polish products.

The more time I spent researching the more I was convinced it was a good use of my time especially when I read the 2019 Duke study pointing out that the (TPHP), one of the substituted chemicals I pointed out at the beginning, was measured in urine samples and found to increase nearly seven-fold 10-14h after fingernail painting. That’s not guessing anymore. The chemical is getting into bodies.

So while “Nail polish manufacturers began phasing out three toxic chemicals in the early 2000s—dibutyl phthalate (DnBP), toluene, and formaldehyde—and labeling their polishes as “3-free.” Researchers found that some of the polishes contained a chemical called triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), which is commonly swapped for DnBP… .“They also found that some products contained didiethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), a hormone-disrupting chemical and possible carcinogen.”3

And get this:

clear nail polish can be more toxic

Clear polishes generally contained more TPHP than colored polishes.” making them more toxic.” 2

After all the research I chose the first 2 Brands I would try.

I’m starting with 2 brands that have the LEAST number of ingredients first. If they work out great! If not I will slowly make my way up the list I created with polishes that have more.

I will share the results with you.

How they go on, how they last, etc.

If you are not on the email list you can get on it by 💌 clicking here 💌. Remember to open your welcome email from simplify self care or emails from me will go into your SPAM 😔.

Brand 1

Piggy Paint: This is the absolute lowest EWG scores of a 1 and 2. All 4 EWG categories are in the green. Not sure how it will work but I have ordered the clear and red- Knowing clear can be more toxic than colored. I chose Piggy Paints Clear. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Non toxic red nail polish

Piggy Paints Complete ingredient list: Water, acrylates copolymer, neem oil.

For colors added ingredients may include: May contain (depending on shade): ultramarines, iron oxide, titanium dioxide, mica, red 28, red 34, red 22, red 7, yellow 10, violet 2, zinc sulfide/copper, chrome green, orange 5.

NOTE: This is a Water-based nail polish. It uses water as a base instead of oil or some other type of chemical solvent. I am going to assume it will not be durable but we will find out.

They are listed on EWG and rated as 1 sometimes 2. (1 being best rating 10 worst)


Brand 2

Kapa Nui


I’m trying the KAPA NUI as a system. I’ve been in contact with them and they explained their nail polish only removes with their remover. And the nail polish works best when using their base/top coat.

I will check out how the system works and let you know!

Kapa Nui Complete ingredient list for colored Nail polishes: Water, acrylates copolymer. (may contain red and/or violet lakes, ultramarine blue, and/or titanium, chromium, and iron oxides) .

Base/Top Coat: 1-methoxy-2-propanol

NOTE: This is again a Water-based nail polish.

They are listed on EWG and rated as 1 sometimes 2. (1 being best rating 10 worst)

Now what surprised me and made me contact them was the Use Restrictions being in the red. It is how they received the 2 rating.

EWG Kapa Nui rating

I decided to look at the ingredient breakdown of my old 10- Free polish and Kapa Nui to see if I still wanted to try it with the Use Restrictions. A definite eye opener.

Take a look at the difference in the number of ingredients alone!

First Kapa Nui

EWG rating of Kapa Nui

Now my old polish:

EWG rating nail polish

I definitely know this is an important Simple Self Care swap I need to make. I’ll keep you posted!

xo! mo

References for you:

1. Avoiding Regrettable Substitutions: Green Toxicology for Sustainable Chemistry Alexandra Maertens, Emily Golden, and Thomas Hartung ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 2021 9 (23), 7749-7758 DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.0c09435

2. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). FDA authority over cosmetics: How cosmetics are not FDA-approved. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from

3. Mendelsohn E, Hagopian A, Hoffman K, Butt CM, Lorenzo A, Congleton J, Webster TF, Stapleton HM. Nail polish as a source of exposure to triphenyl phosphate. Environ Int. 2016 Jan;86:45-51. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2015.10.005. Epub 2015 Oct 18. PMID: 26485058; PMCID: PMC4662901..

4. ‘nontoxic’ nail Polish may still contain toxic chemicals. News. (2018, October 17). Retrieved February 25, 2022, from

A FEW Common Chemicals in nail polish we should avoid:

Benzophenone and Benzophenone-1.

Wang WQ, Duan HX, Pei ZT, Xu RR, Qin ZT, Zhu GC, Sun LW. Evaluation by the Ames Assay of the Mutagenicity of UV Filters Using Benzophenone and Benzophenone-1. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2018 Sep; 15 (9): 1907.

Kerdivel, Gwenneg; Le Guevel, Remy; Habauzit, Denis; et. al. Estrogenic Potency of Benzophenone UV Filters in Breast Cancer Cells: Proliferative and Transcriptional Activity Substantiated by Docking Analysis. April 4, 2013. (

Benzophenone-1 and Octylphenol

Shin S, Go RE, Kim CW, Hwang KA, Nam KH, Choi KC. Effect of Benzophenone-1 and Octylphenol on the Regulation of Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition via an Estrogen Receptor-Dependent Pathway in Estrogen Receptor Expressing Ovarian Cancer Cells. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2016 Jul 1; 93: 58-65.

Di-2-Ethylhexyl Phthalate (DEHP) and Di-N-Butyl Phthalate (DBP)

Shiota K.; Chou M. J.; Nishimura H. Embryotoxic Effects of Di-2-Ethylhexyl Phthalate (DEHP) and Di-N-Butyl Phthalate (DBP) in Mice. Environ. Res. 1980, 22 (1), 245–253. BP-1 was found to be mutagenic in the Ames test (Wang et al. 2018) and caused epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of BG-1 ovarian cancer cells (Shin, et al. 2016).


Young, Anna S et al. “Phthalate and Organophosphate Plasticizers in Nail Polish: Evaluation of Labels and Ingredients.” Environmental science & technology vol. 52,21 (2018): 12841-12850. doi:10.1021/acs.est.8b04495

Jung-Wan Koo,1 Frederick Parham,1 Michael C. Kohn,1 Scott A. Masten,1 John W. Brock,2 Larry L. Needham, 2 and Christopher J. Portier1 1Environmental Toxicology Program, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA; 2National Center for Environmental Health, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA


Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). FDA authority over cosmetics: How cosmetics are not FDA-approved. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from

EWG skin deep®: Ratings for all nail polishes. EWG. (n.d.). Retrieved February 26, 2022, from

Cosmetic Ingredient Review |. (n.d.). Retrieved February 26, 2022, from

(PDF) characterization of the physical factors affecting … (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2022, from Rubin CB, Brod B. Natural Does Not Mean Safe—The Dirt on Clean Beauty Products. JAMA Dermatol. 2019;155(12):1344–1345. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2019.272


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