What is Natural Nail Polish?

Sarah Valek

Natural nail polish refers to nail enamel that is free of many of the chemicals commonly found in regular nail polish. Unlike regular nail polish, natural nail polish is water-based, rather than solvent-based. Natural nail polish is free of formaldehyde, toulene, artificial colors, xylene, and phthalates, all of which are common ingredients in regular nail polish.

Clear natural nail polish.
Clear natural nail polish.

No nail polish is completely natural, but the group of nail polishes marketed as “natural nail polish” minimize use of synthetic ingredients and chemicals. Besides for its water base, natural nail polish generally contains a small amount of plastic, usually in the form of polyurethane or co-polymers, and natural colorings. The plastic is used as a binding agent. Natural nail polish is solvent-free, or uses solvents in tiny amounts, and is non-toxic and odorless. It will not strip natural oils from fingernails and leave them dry like the effects of regular nail enamel.

Natural nail polish is non-toxic, odorless, and comes in many colors.
Natural nail polish is non-toxic, odorless, and comes in many colors.

Some environmental advocates and scientists question the safety of these chemicals. Phthalates, a group of industrial chemicals that act as plasticizers, have been linked to birth defects and cancer. One phthalate known as dibutyl phthalate (DBP) was linked to cause underdeveloped genitals and fertility problems in newborn boys. Another study suggested that women who worked in nail salons had decreased attention and processing skills due to prolonged exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), like those found in regular nail enamel.

Natural nail polish minimizes the use of synthetic ingredients but does contain a small amount of plastic.
Natural nail polish minimizes the use of synthetic ingredients but does contain a small amount of plastic.

Scientists who claim phthalates are safe often cite a study where the chemicals caused problems in rodents but not in non-human primates, implying that the chemicals may be safe for humans. Toulene is considered toxic, as is a formaldehyde, which is also a known carcinogen. Some people say these chemicals are used in such minuscule amounts in nail polish that they won’t cause any problems.

It’s up to consumers to decide whether or not they want these chemicals in the products they buy. Natural nail polish is marketed to people who want to avoid potentially toxic ingredients and VOCs, yet don’t want to compromise fashion.

Non-toxic nail polish may take longer to dry than regular nail polish and usually reaches maximum hardness in four to six hours. Natural nail polish is available in many colors and in both peel off and non-peel off styles. Some polishes can be taken off with rubbing alcohol and vodka grain alcohol instead of traditional nail polish remover.

There are many vegan and organic natural nail polishes available. Vegan nail polish is water-based and free of animal products like carmine, a dye made from crushed scale insects.

It is important to keep in mind that no nail polish is completely natural.
It is important to keep in mind that no nail polish is completely natural.

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Discussion Comments


I have some natural green nail polish, but I only get to use it when I have nothing better to do for hours than wait for the polish to dry. I usually apply it on a Saturday night when I’m just sitting at home watching TV.

Most of my other nail polishes only take one minute to dry. This is convenient, because I can then apply another coat or designs. With natural nail polish, I can only apply one coat, unless I have four or more hours to waste.

I bought the polish out of curiosity. I don’t plan to add to my collection with other shades, though, because frankly, I prefer polish that dries in seconds, even if it does contain chemicals.


@turkay1, @ddljohn-- Sometimes I'm not quite sure what natural nail polish means.

If it just means that it's "three-free" as they call it, free from toluene, DBP and formaldehyde, then many nail polishes fit into this category even if they're not advertised as "green," "natural" or "organic" nail polish.

For example, brands like Revlon, Chanel, London Butter and some Zoya polishes are three-free. But we don't usually hear these referred to as "natural nail polishes."

I'd like to learn more about what is the distinction between the three-free nail polishes and the all-natural, green ones. Anyone know?


@turkay1-- You should try the natural nail polishes that are not water based. Those last as long as regular nail polish, and don't chip easily. They're not water based, but they're also free of most of the bad chemicals.

But these polishes do have an odor unfortunately. Some of them actually smell like regular nail polish.

I guess all natural nail polish just doesn't work as well. We have to make a choice about what is most important for us, health or fashion.

But I agree with you, a nail polish that chips in one day is not really worth it. I'd rather not wear anything on my nails or deal with the odor and go with the non-water based ones.


I've been trying to switch to all natural cosmetic products for the past year. With most cosmetic and skin care products, there are a lot of all-natural options out there. Natural nail polish brands are a little harder to find and the color range isn't as great as regular nail polish brands.

I have been able to find several natural polish brands though and right now I have five water based ones. They're all free from formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate and toluene.

The absolute best thing about these nail polishes is that they don't smell! I hate the chemical smell of regular nail polishes. It makes the entire house smell horrible and I feel like I can't breathe. The water based natural polishes don't smell like a thing! I can put it on without worrying about odors.

The bad part about this polish, however, is that it really doesn't last long. They all come off in about a day. It just chips way too fast. I don't mind redoing my nails every three days or so, but I can't do it every day.

I still use natural nail polishes sometimes, but I've mainly passed them onto my daughter who doesn't mind the chipping.

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