Nail polish, like laser tag and extreme fidget spinning, is both very fun and potentially dangerous. Fun, because of color! Potentially dangerous because of something called the "Big Three": toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and formaldehyde, which has long sullied the lacquers of our forefathers. These ingredients are not nothing to worry about: According to the CDC, extended exposure to toluene and DBP can cause birth defects and developmental problems in the children of pregnant women, and formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. For a long time, companies weren't required to be transparent about what was in nail polish, and bottles could flaunt being "non-toxic" despite being quite toxic.
Then there was 3-Free, polishes made without the "Big Three," and that was an improvement. Next came 5-Free, which ditched formaldehyde resin (not known to be a carcinogen, but an allergen that potentially does contain residual traces of formaldehyde) and camphor–a likely less toxic, but skin-irritating ingredient that is beginning to be regulated more as more studies are done. Now, in 2017, we've got 8-Free, meaning: No toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), ethyl tosylamid, and xylene–all of which was once in nearly every nail polish you'd find at your local Walgreens. What a time to be alive.
We wrote about 5-Free in 2015, and just two years later, a lot of 5- or 7-Free brands–Tenoverten, an NYC-based salon, and Butter London–already boast 8-Free labels. The additional three omitted ingredients (TPHP, ethyl tosylamid, and xylene) have been shown, according to studies by the EWG and Duke University, to affect women’s hormones–either from exposure to the product during application, or due to absorption through the nail plate. So replacing your Essie polish (sorry, Clambake) with an 8-Free is probably, actually, worth it. Might we suggest Tenoverten's 043 LA? It's a slightly less orange-y, still very summer-y, red.
By Terry is another luxe brand that boasts 8-Free polish. And some salons are pushing the envelope even further: See Côte and Sundays–the latter founded by Amy Ling Lin in March of this year, the salon’s nail polishes are 10-Free (!), vegan, and cruelty-free, and the company as a whole is focused on the health of their customers and their employees over everything else. The product is really good, too–the polishes come in soft pastel hues that actually feel like early Sunday mornings in the spring or fall (our favorite is No. 31–a blue-ish, sea green color to wear on the beach in Maine).
It’s deeply comforting to know that Emily Ferber’s favorite top coat is 8-Free–all of Smith and Cult’s polishes are, in fact. That's not to mention, either, that their Glass Souls is the best glitter polish you'll ever use at home. So while the current market may be dominated by the 3-Free or the 5-Free, the way things are looking, all your previous favorites are, hopefully, on their way to eliminating those extra toxins. 8-Free for everyone, please.
Photographed by Morgan Von Steen.
Looking for more clean products to follow your clean[er] nail polish? Read here.