Are gel nail polishes safe for your health? Here is the ultimate guide to non-toxic gel nail polish brands and all the potential health hazards that you want to avoid in nail products.
Gel polishes are an amazing invention! They are easy to apply, almost like ordinary polishes. Gel polishes dry very quickly in the lamp. They stay on the nails for about 2 weeks. And you can remove them by simply soaking them off.
|CND Shellac||Top pick. 7-free. Vegan, cruelty-free. Most hypoallergenic brand.||CHECK ON AMAZON|
|Bio Seaweed||5-free, vegan, cruelty-free. All-in-one UNITY line.||CHECK ON AMAZON|
|Orly GelFX||12-free, vitamin-infused, vegan, cruelty-free.||CHECK ON AMAZON|
|Beetles||Budget-friendly, 9-free, vegan, cruelty-free, SGC-certified||CHECK ON AMAZON|
|NCLA||7-free, vegan, cruelty-free.||CHECK ON AMAZON|
With this guide, you’ll be able to read any lists of cosmetic ingredients and select the safest and cleanest non-toxic gel nail polish for your manicure.
Let’s jump right in:
Best non-toxic gel nail polish brands
CND Shellac Non-Toxic Gel Nail Polish
CND Shellac is the most famous brand of gel nail polishes on the market. And one of the top non-toxic gel nail polish brands.
It was the polish that had actually started the gel nail polish trend.
Shellac is a very high-quality premium salon-grade polish.
It can stay on your nails for 14 days.
According to CND, it’s 7-free.
Therefore it’s free of toluene, camphor, formaldehyde, phthalates (DBP), formaldehyde resin, xylene, and methyl ethyl ketone (MEK).
It doesn’t contain many other toxic ingredients either.
Shellac also vegan, cruelty-free, hypoallergenic, and pretty soft and gentle to the natural nails.
The polish is easy to remove by simply soaking it off.
CND is known to manufacture probably the least allergenic products on the market.
The company promises that their nail polishes are hypoallergenic.
Some people switch from other gel nail polishes that cause severe allergic reactions, swelling, and contact dermatitis to Shellac and Vinylux and the symptoms go away.
However, please be careful, because one person may have an allergic response to a cosmetic product that is fine for another person.
Please consult a doctor if you have any doubts.
Vegan and cruelty-free:
Shellac is only a catchy brand name that signifies a glossy lacquered manicure surface.
There is no lac bug secret in the formula, and no other animal-derived ingredients. It’s also not tested on animals.
Bio Seaweed Gel Non-Toxic Gel Nail Polish
Of course, there’s no seaweed in this polish. It’s just a catchy name like the one Shellac uses.
Sadly, no-one has found a way to use seaweed for making polishes.
And if someone really did invent a method of making gel nail polishes out of seaweed that person would probably get a Nobel Prize.
Because seaweed is a completely sustainable material.
Moreover, its growing process is very eco-friendly.
Anyway, the seaweed mention in this brand’s name emphasizes the use of healthy ingredients in this polish.
Bio Seaweed Gel polishes are 5-free, made in the USA, vegan, and cruelty-free.
No big 5 in these polishes means they have no formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, BHA, or camphor.
Bio Seaweed non-toxic gel nail polish is also water-based.
It means that they are specially formulated so the toxic chemical solvents like toluene are replaced by water.
So these nail polishes are made to enrich your nails with vitamins and make them stronger instead of damaging them.
And they are pretty durable.
Bio Seaweed Gel can stay on your nails for up to 2 weeks and is easily removable by soaking it off.
Bio Seaweed Gel 3STEP line consists of the base, the color polishes, and the top coat.
The top coat is a no-wipe one, which is a big plus.
You can finish your manicure faster without the need to wipe off the sticky layer.
Bio Seaweed Gel also has a line called UNITY
Here’s the catch:
This polish is a gel-like all-in-one nail polish that contains the base, the color polish and the top coat in one bottle.
This polish doesn’t leave a tacky layer either. So it’s another no-wipe product.
And there’s no need to cure it in a UV/LED lamp because it cures to the touch in direct sunlight.
Orly Gel FX Non-Toxic Gel Nail Polish
Orly has been making nail polishes since 1975.
Their current line of gel nail polishes is called Orly GelFX.
It’s a healthy line of gel polishes that is free of BHA.
GelFX is also 12-free.
That means it contains no toluene, formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, MEHQ/HQ, MIT, parabens, animal-derived ingredients, or gluten.
So it’s one of the cleanest non-toxic gel nail polish brands on the market.
Moreover, Orly GelFX polishes are vitamin and mineral-infused.
They contain vitamins A, B5, E to strengthen your nails and to make them healthier.
One of the company’s best products is Orly GelFX Builder in a Bottle.
It’s very easy to use soak off sculpting gel.
Builder in a Bottle is also healthy and non-toxic.
Beetles Non-Toxic Gel Nail Polish
Beetles is one of the best budget non-toxic gel nail polish brands. Great for at-home manicures for less!
They are sold only on Amazon. The best deal is to get a large 23-piece set.
Beetles gel polish is 9-free.
That means it contains no dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, triphenyl phosphate, xylene, paraben, phthalate, animal ingredients.
All Beetles products have also passed the SGS test of Heavy metal and Toxicological risk assessment.
SGS is a giant multinational company with headquarters in Switzerland. It provides quality and safety testing and certification services for manufacturers all over the world.
The Heavy metal and Toxicological risk assessment test checks whether the end user of the products that are tested gets exposed to potentially hazardous substances.
It’s a product toxicity test, which Beetles polishes have successfully passed.
Beetles is also a vegan and cruelty-free line of products.
A huge plus of this polish is that it’s not smelly. It has a low odor formula.
So if you are sensitive to chemical odors then this polish is for you.
The only downside of this polish is that it doesn’t last as long as some more expensive non-toxic gel nail polishes.
NCLA Gelous Non-Toxic Gel Nail Polish
NCLA was founded in LA, California by two sisters from Belgium.
The sisters are animal lovers so they created a vegan and cruelty-free brand of clean and healthy beauty products.
Their gel polishes are 7-free. So they have no formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, DBP, toluene, camphor, TPHP, or xylene.
NCLA polishes are also vegan and not tested on animals.
The top coat is another no-wipe one, which is great.
Non-toxic gel nail polish buying guide
The first thing you should check your gel nail polish for is BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole).
BHA is used in cosmetics as an antioxidant and preservative.
However, the National Toxicology Program lists it as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
Also, look for polishes that are at least 5-free.
That means they should be free of the five most potentially dangerous toxic chemicals:
There are also 7-free, 9-free, 10-free, and 12-free polishes that exclude even more potentially toxic chemicals.
- Dibutyl phthalate
- Formaldehyde resin
The so-called “toxic trio”, formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate, are the most toxic ingredients that you can find in cosmetics and nail polishes.
They often cause contact dermatitis, various allergies, and can even lead to death.
Formaldehyde is needed to harden and strengthen the nail polish and to preserve it against bacterial growth and against mold and fungi.
When you put the brush applicator back into the bottle it may provoke bacteria growth and your polish can go bad.
That’s why every manufacturer has to use some kind of preservative.
Manufacturers of healthier polishes tend to use non-toxic preservatives.
Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a strong smell.
Formaldehyde occurs in nature in small amounts.
Even our bodies, plants, and animals produce a tiny bit of this gas.
And these tiny amounts are usually not harmful.
However, some people are more sensitive to this chemical than others. For example, children, or people with asthma.
According to the US Government Agency of Toxic Substances, exposure to high amounts of formaldehyde causes cancer.
Exposure to small amounts that are found in new homes or in wood products, can cause eye, throat, and nose irritation.
Higher amounts of formaldehyde cause rashes, wheezing, shortness of breath.
So really, here’s no need to expose yourself to higher amounts of a toxic substance through cosmetics if you can avoid it.
Toluene is used for smoother application of the nail polish and more even distribution of color.
It’s a common ingredient in nail polish removers.
Toluene can also be used as a component of inks for printing the packaging of your cosmetics.
It’s a colorless liquid with a sweet and pungent smell.
Toluene fumes are toxic.
And it’s absorbed by the body mostly through inhalation, but it can be slowly absorbed through the skin.
It’s especially dangerous for children, as they have a larger lung surface area in relation to their body weight.
According to the US Government Agency of Toxic Substances, high exposure to toluene can even result in death.
Mild exposure can result in nausea, dizziness, fatigue, headache.
Mild chronic exposure leads to memory loss, loss of coordination, disorders of the optic nerve, and even permanent neuropsychiatric effects.
Long chronic exposure can also end in death.
Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) is a plasticizer for nail polishes.
It helps the polish stay flexible on the nails and prevents cracking and chipping.
It’s also used for making plastics to keep them soft and flexible and is added to printing inks, insect repellents, hair spray, solvents, paper coatings, etc.
However, after it was suspected of causing problems with the endocrinal system and fetal development, most companies stopped using it in their nail polishes after 2006.
But still do watch out for this ingredient in polishes.
Formaldehyde resin is a by-product of formaldehyde.
It makes the nail polish shiny and durable.
According to PubMed, formaldehyde resin is dangerous, because it can cause allergic contact dermatitis, a very unpleasant red itchy rash.
Camphor gives the nail polish its glossy shiny look.
It’s also used in ointments, rubs, insect repellents, incense, and mothballs.
It’s a white solid with a strong smell.
Camphor is highly toxic and especially dangerous for kids.
It’s not absorbed by the skin too much, but it’s very dangerous when kids inhale it or digest it.
Too much exposure to camphor may cause seizures, especially in young children.
Camphor poisoning also causes stomachache, nausea, vomiting, irritability, and agitation.
Other ingredients you can avoid by choosing non-toxic gel nail polish brands
Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK)
Methyl ethyl ketone is a solvent used mostly in nail polish removers or as a thinner in nail polishes.
It’s a colorless liquid with a mint-like odor.
MEK is highly flammable.
According to the New Jersey Department of Health, MEK is absorbed by inhalation or through skin contact.
It can cause rashes, drying or cracking of your skin, affect breathing, severely irritate or burn the eyes, irritate the nose and throat through breathing it in.
High exposure to MEK can damage the nervous system and the brain.
Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP)
Triphenyl Phosphate is used in nail polishes as a plasticizer to increase their elasticity and durability.
It’s also used as a fire retardant in furniture.
It has recently been found harmful.
Duke University researchers were able to find TPHP in women’s bodies just hours after they painted their nails.
TPHP is an endocrine disruptor. That means it interferes with hormone functioning and can hurt the reproductive system.
Ethyl Tosylamide is a plasticizer that helps the nail polish to dry, increases its adhesion, and makes it more durable.
It can cause serious allergic reactions.
Xylene, also known as methyl toluene, is a solvent for paints. It thins the nail polish and keeps it from becoming too thick or lumpy.
According to the US Government Agency of Toxic Substances, xylene can become toxic at room temperature and accumulate in badly ventilated areas.
It irritates the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract.
Most often you can get exposed to it by inhaling, which may lead to headaches, dizziness, tremor, and even coma.
And its ingestion is extremely toxic.
Hydroquinone monomethyl ether, also known as MEHQ/HQ, is a polymerization inhibitor.
It prevents gel polishes from curing prematurely.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, MEHQ/HQ can be absorbed through inhalation or skin contact.
It irritates the eyes, skin, nose, throat, respiratory tract, it can also cause burns and depress the central nervous system.
Parabens are preservatives that keep mold, funghi, and bacteria from growing in the polish bottle.
Parabens are a whole group of chemicals that are very common in cosmetics, food, and drugs.
They are cheap and they do the job as preservatives, that’s why they are so popular.
The most widely used parabens are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben.
They are often added to cosmetic products in combination with other preservatives.
US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t ban parabens.
However, according to PubMed, parabens can be absorbed dermally, and are estrogenic.
That means they can act like the female hormone estrogen, an increased dose of which can be linked to breast cancer.
Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) is another preservative against mold, fungi, and bacteria that is often used as a replacement for parabens.
According to Dermatology Research and Practice, methylisothiazolinone can cause allergic reactions, such as contact dermatitis.
It’s especially dangerous for babies and children.
Canada and Japan restrict the use of MIT in cosmetics.
Animal Derived Ingredients
We all love our animal friends.
Nail polishes free of animal-derived ingredients and not tested on animals are called vegan and cruelty-free.
While gel nail polishes don’t use any lac bug extract, they still may contain other animal products.
Guanine or pearl essence is an extract from fish scales and animal tissue acids.
It gives the nail polish shimmer and pearly look.
Carmine is a red coloring that comes from boiling and crushing special bugs.
You can find it as a colorant in red nail polishes.
Oleic acid comes from animal fat. It’s a thickener for cosmetics.
Nail products also may be tested on animals.
Gluten is not as toxic as some other chemicals on this list.
It’s present in wheat, barley, and rye-based products.
However many people have gluten sensitivity, also called gluten intolerance.
So if you are on a gluten-free diet due to a medical condition then you should choose a gel nail polish without gluten too.
Gluten molecules may be able to penetrate the skin, according to some experts. So it’s better to be safe than sorry.
There are no requirements for nail polish or other cosmetic products manufacturers to list gluten on their packaging.
That’s why you should select those manufacturers that specifically brand their products as gluten-free if you have a gluten intolerance.
I hope that with all this information you’ll be able to choose the perfect healthy and non-toxic gel nail polish for fantastic manicures.