Let me get the bad news out of the way first: 100% natural, non-toxic nail polish doesn’t really exist.

Sorry. 😬

But, if you love your manicures, don’t fret just yet. There are definitely safer, low-tox nail polish brands on the market.

I’ll tell you the worst ingredients to watch out for, and which brands are “cleaner.”

This guide contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase. (Not all links are affiliate, though!) As always, we only make honest recommendations.

The WORST Toxic Nail Polish Ingredients to Avoid

The first polishes used contained ingredients like beeswax, gum arabic, egg whites, and plant pigments. But, manicure artists sought formulas to create high-gloss, smooth, glassy, bright, and durable polish.

So, it didn’t take long for nail polish to contain ingredients that are hard on our health. These include three primary toxic chemicals: toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and formaldehyde. 

There’s no reason to inhale these chemicals and put them on your body to make your nails look pretty, so below is a list of the TOP toxic ingredients, including what they’re used for and their faults.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA): used as a preservative and stabilizer, but is classified as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” and is a suspected endocrine disruptor.

Toluene: a solvent that thins the polish, but can cause neurological damage, impaired breathing, hearing loss, brain dysfunction, and possible birth defects in pregnancies.

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP): used for durability and shine, but is an endocrine disruptor and can damage the liver, kidney, and reproductive system.

Camphor: does naturally come from a camphor tree, but can trigger allergic reactions, dizziness, headache, nausea, and liver dysfunction.

Xylene: used to maintain liquid consistency, but can cause a range of symptoms from headaches and dizziness to respiratory issues, kidney problems, and gastrointestinal toxicity.

Formaldehyde: used as both a preservative against bacteria and an agent for strengthening and hardness, but can cause allergic reactions, asthma, nausea, and even miscarriages. 

Formaldehyde Resin: adds depth, shine, and hardness to the nail polish, but can cause skin allergies, dermatitis, and possible reproductive issues leading to miscarriage. 

Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP): used to improve flexibility and durability, but can cause endocrine toxicity and irregularities in developmental and reproductive systems. 

Parabens: used as preservatives, but are known endocrine disruptors. (methylparaben, butylparaben, etc.)

Colophonium: does naturally come from pine and spruce trees and is used as the glue, BUT can cause strong allergic reactions, dermatitis, and breathing issues.

Organic halides: used as thinners (why are there so many thinners?!) and consist of various substances like bromine, iodine, fluorine, and chlorine, but they cause various serious disorders, including nerve damage.

Unfortunately, these chemicals can make their way into your body through painting your nails. In a 2015 study, researchers tested participants’ urine and found levels of Diphenyl phosphate (a TPHP metabolite) to increase nearly seven-fold 10–14 hours after fingernail painting!

They also had some participants “paint” their nails while wearing gloves in order to test whether the chemical exposures were from inhaling the chemicals while actually doing the manicure or whether the polish was soaking through the skin/nails and into the body. The researchers stated that “urinary DPHP was significantly diminished when wearing gloves, suggesting that the primary exposure route is dermal,” meaning the chemicals are soaking through your skin & nails and into your bloodstream.

Acrylic Nails Are No Better

Acrylic and gel nails sadly aren’t any better. Their formulations are likely to be similarly toxic but with the added issue of acrylic dust from the grinding & filing.

Ethyl methacrylate is the main ingredient used in about 90% of acrylic nail products. In rodent studies, it’s been linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity. It’s also a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant that’s been linked to things like workplace-induced asthma in salon workers.

Plus, acrylic and gel nails often rely on UV light, which is a less powerful version of tanning beds that helps to cure and harden the polish. Research has found that regular use of UV dryers is linked to an increased risk of skin cancer.

Many salons use LED dryers, which emit less UV rays. Wearing fingerless gloves can also help dial down UV exposure, if you want to do that.

Tips for a Safer Manicure

Keep in mind that even a “10-free” or “21-free” nail polish can contain “not-great” ingredients. There’s really nothing regulating what “10-free” or “21-free” or “whatever-free” actually means. That basically means that two different brands could be “7-free,” but what the 7 ingredients they’re referencing are are totally different.

That’s why I recommend actually checking out the ingredients and making sure they don’t contain any of the ones listed above.

(See below for my recommendation on a totally non-toxic manicure option!)

Now, all of that said, here are some recommendations for a safer manicure:

  • Apply nail polish in a well-ventilated area—either outside, with the windows open, and/or next to an air filter.
  • If you really love your nail polish and don’t want to give it up completely, consider just wearing it less often. Maybe save it for special occasions or something!
  • Don’t bite your nails while wearing nail polish. You don’t want to ingest the nail polish that way.

P.S. Here’s a full article on non-toxic nail polish remover!

Abbie’s Top Pick: Bare Hands Dry Gloss Manicure

My #1 recommendation for a truly non-toxic manicure is actually to skip the polish altogether and go with a “dry gloss” manicure.

This beautiful kit from Bare Hands comes with:

  • a vegan leather case
  • cuticle oil (which has healthy ingredients like castor and jojoba oil)
  • a nail polisher

You can essentially give yourself nourished, great-looking bare nails without having to worry about the ingredients in nail polish. I love that you still get the self-care ritual aspect with this, too!

You can use the code THEFILTERY for 10% off your dry gloss manicure.

7 Low-Tox Nail Polish Brands for a Cleaner Manicure


With self-care and wellness at the center, sundays is a salon in NYC that sells a decent range of signature products (including 9-free soy polish remover!). Their long-lasting, gorgeous, and timeless polish colors come in well-designed bottles for flawless application. By offering candles, affirmation and meditation merchandise, and nail care, sundays really covers the gammat of a manicure experience—even if at home. 

Vegan. 10-free.

Dazzle Dry (Gel)

If you’re looking for a gel polish (which will typically last longer than a standard polish), Dazzle Dry is a great choice.

They’ve figured out how to make the gel polish dry without the use of a UV light. (They do recommend you use their 4-step system to get the best results, though. It includes a “nail prep,” base coat, lacquer, and top coat.)

They’re also vegan and they give back to various charities.


Huella’s “Truly 10-Free™” polishes come in a really variety of colors and finishes—including matte vs. glossy, and more.

Huella’s polishes are also a bit more chip-resistant than many other low-tox brands. Plus, they use a “professional-grade” flat brush to give you a smooth, even application.

They’ve also got plenty of accessories (like nail files) and a “Better Off” polish remover as well, which is free from acetone and alcohol. Just like the Sunday remover, it does take a little bit longer to remove the polish, but it still works just fine! Plus, it’s got jojoba oil, vitamin E, and lavender oil, which helps to enrich your nails and skin (and make the remover smell better!).

Vegan & cruelty-free. Made in the USA. 10-free.

Use code THEFILTERY for 10% off your order.

100% Pure

In addition to their ‘fruit-pigmented’ makeup and skincare, 100% Pure also carries 20-free nail polish in a variety of fun colors, plus a base coat, top coat, and ridge filler.

Vegan & cruelty-free. 20-free. Made in the USA.

(They do use benzophenone-1 in many of their formulations, though, which is an allergen.)

Kure Bazaar

Kure Bazaar says that up to 90% of the ingredients in their 10-free polishes are derived wood pulp, cotton, maize, potato and wheat.

This brand was created by a former French fashion model, so their shades are always on-trend. Plus, the quick-dry formula glides on smooth finish that lasts as long as regular nail polish.

They have a luxurious Rose Cuticle Oil, too, which is 100% natural!

Vegan. 10-free.


mersi non-toxic nail polish

Mersi is unique because it is Halal and Wudu friendly. (Halal means the ingredients are in accordance to Islamic law.) The two big factors that make their products Halal is that they use zero animal by-products and the polish is water permeable (a.k.a. breathable). During the prayer practices Ablution/Wudu, the nails must be touched by the water.

Outside of adhering to Islamic Law, being water and oxygen permeable does a great benefit to nails by allowing them to stay hydrated. With high standards and multiple certifications, Mersi offers nail polish, “mission sets” that support cultural movements, customizable sets, and nail nutrition.

Vegan. Halal. 21-free.


Aila best non-toxic nail polish brands

The founder of AILA is a medical professional, cancer survivor, mother, and health seeker.

AILA is unique because some of their products are infused with health-promoting ingredients. Take their PRIME Base Coat secret ingredient for example: garlic(!). The garlic strengthens the nail and protects it from fungus through its high levels of allicin, sulphur, zinc, calcium, and selenium.

In addition to nail polishes, AILA offers a super full line of ‘essentials,’ including their plant-based polish remover, which is enhanced with argan oil to nourish the skin and nails.

Vegan. Gluten-Free. 15-free.

(Note that they also use benzophenone-1, which is an allergen than many folks may want to avoid.)

About Jaclyn

Jaclyn Stephens is an artist, farmer, and writer. Her work generates associative play between environments, materials, meanings, and sensory perceptions. Utilizing a variety of mediums, her work suspends the buoyancy we experience between the known and unknown about nature. Cultivating a relationship with landscape is both a way of living and a way of making, but primarily what connects everything she is constantly doing.

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