Clean nail polish usually means a product free of animal-derived ingredients and known harmful chemicals. However, a new breed of nail polish offers more than just cleaner ingredients. They claim to nourish nails with antioxidants from fruits and veggies, and offer transparency. Although we currently don’t have any research assessing how fruit and veggie derived ingredients in polish nourish nails, removing toxic ingredients, using plant-based alternatives, and disclosing ingredients are a definite win.
The Old: Animals and Chemicals
Manufacturers have traditionally used animal products as thickening agents to achieve color, durability, and shine. Guanine, better know as fish scales, is typically used to add shimmer to makeup and polish. Lac resin, secreted by lac beetles, gives shellac nail polish the gloss. Oleic acid, fat from animals and vegetables, acts as a thickening agent.
A joint study from Duke University and the Environmental Working Group (2015) shows that chemicals in nail polish such as triphenyl phosphate or TPHP interferes with hormone function and metabolism. TPHP can also be found in retardants and plastics.
Although most molecules fail to permeate nails, “solvents” can make the nails more absorbent and “the network of capillaries in the cuticle that surrounds the nail might play a role in carrying the chemical into the body”.
The New: For Adults, Plant-Based, and Transparency
Market for non-toxic nail polish started with parents wanting clean polish for kids, such as Piggy Paint (2008). The goal: replace toxic chemicals with safe ones. The market has since evolved and brands such as Ella + Mila (2014) and Cote (2014), cater to conscious adult consumers. More recent brands, Static Nails (2016) and Color Dept. (2021), however, also focus on plant-based ingredients, wheat, apricot, jojoba, and corn, to name a few. Note that Static Nails started off as reusable press-on nails that has branched into nail polish.
Research on toxicity in nail products uncover the lack of transparency when it comes to ingredients in nail products. Some of the newer brands seem to address this problem wholeheartedly, although not all.
In our online sleuthing, we found that some brands focus intently on what the products do not contain, which is an improvement, but not necessarily the actual ingredients. Either links to see all ingredients don’t work, there’s no link at all for full ingredients, or we read a generalized list of ingredients such as mineral pigment. We find that the online presence of the two Los Angeles-based brands, Color Dept. and Cote, currently have the most impressive transparency. We hope other brands follow suit.
Right now, brands focus on the polish itself for a clean product, understandably. But the hope would be more sustainable options for the bottle, cap, brush, and packaging. Presently, Cote has a recycling program, which gives you 10% of your next polish order by bringing any used bottle to their shop. This has geographical limitations, but a start.
The paradox of self-care: Practices we consider a part of self-care can actually have damaging consequences. It’s important to set priorities when it comes to self-care. Pretty nails don’t have to compromise your health, animals, or the environment.
The good, the bad, and the branding: Antioxidants, toxin-free, buzz words entice us. And in this process, it’s easy to miss the important details. Marketing can be a force for good, since it can be a source of useful information. However, unlike independent scientific research, the knowledge given always has the goal to convince, sell, and get to our emotions.
Overall, the growth of clean beauty testifies to a more sophisticated consumer and forward thinking innovators and entrepreneurs. The ability to create online stores and and social media presence have allowed burgeoning brands to offer alternatives and challenge big name beauty companies.
The More You Know
In the study conducted by Duke University and EWG, researchers checked for diphenyl phosphate or DPHP in the participants’ urine samples and not TPHP. Why? When the body metabolizes TPHP, the body creates DPHP.