(Sorry for the delay on getting this post up, its been a week+ of chronic illness flares. Kind of appropriate I suppose since these posts are about finding ways to live with and through chronic illness.)
Back before MCS I was a nail polish freak. Loved it, had no real clue about who made what other than the big name brands, but still it was fun. The fact that I had no nails to speak of (still dont, the dang things refuse to grow without thinning and splitting) didn’t stop me from having fun. I would even do silk extensions as often as I could afford them. It was fun and I liked the look of both the length and having color on my nails.
Even back then I knew getting my nails done in a shop was probably not so great for my health – you’ve been in those places right? Wow the concentrated smell of polish and cleaner and adhesives. Yuck. So when I got sick it was clear to me that I was never getting silk or acrylic tips again. I also gave away all my polish (mostly blues and golds lol) and resigned myself to boring nails.
Thankfully I am a stubborn cat and the lure of color and sparkle is generally too much to resist. As with the desire for new, safe, make up, I went on the hunt for new, safe nail polish. And wow did I find them. I honestly have more polish now than I did seven years ago! lol (yes honey I can hear you groaning from here. You love me and you know it.)
mmmm shiny shiny nail polsih
Why yes, those bottles are arranged by color. Doesn’t everyone do that with their nail polish and their paint jars and colored pencils and colored markers?
I’m putting what on my nails?
So the first thing I learned about safe nail polish is that there are a lot of lovely companies out there making them. Some of them are on the large commercial side and some are on the small hand crafted side. The vast majority of them are wonderful.
Things to look for: Big 3, Big 4 or Big 5 free. These refer to what isnt in the polishes, the main three being: Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde and Toluene.
All Lacquered Up has a nice explanation of what these chemicals do and why they can be problematic:
Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP) is a plasticiser to prevent chips and cracks. DBP is an oily liquid that is soluble in fat and slightly soluble in water. It is not very volatile so it does not evaporate readily into the atmosphere.
Over 75% of DBP is used as a plasticiser in polymers such as PVC, 14% is used in adhesives, 7% in printing inks and 3% in other miscellaneous uses, including sealants and grouting agents used in construction as well as consumer products such as cosmetics.
Formaldehyde does not exist in nail polish. It is used in some nail hardeners but not in the actual polish. A resin, tosylamide/formaldehyde resin, makes the polish tough and resilient. While the resin is manufactured from formaldehyde, once the product becomes a resin, the formaldehyde is chemically changed and essentially no longer present. So while formaldehyde is grouped in with toluene and DBP in marketing statements and considered one of the Big 3, it isn’t actually an issue unless you have a reaction to the formaldehyde resin.
The bottom line, you should be aware of formaldehyde in your treatment products, not polish.
Toluene (methylbenzene, toluol, phenylmethane) is a solvent that makes the polish easy to apply. It is an aromatic hydrocarbon commonly used as an industrial solvent for the manufacturing of paints, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and rubber.
Toluene is found in gasoline, acrylic paints, varnishes, lacquers, paint thinners, adhesives, glues, rubber cement, airplane glue, and shoe polish. At room temperature, toluene is a colorless, sweet smelling, volatile liquid.
Big four Free means free of: Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin
Big Five Free means free of: Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, and Camphor.
Formaldehyde Resin is exactly what is sounds like, a resin derived from formaldehyde with all the attendant problems that includes. As I say to most people when they hear that I am allergic to formaldehyde and how many things its used in: its a really useful chemical, in the right place and the right time. Sadly for me, and many other people, that means pretty much never.
I’ll let KAM at RawLife explain the last one: “Camphor? Yeah, you read that right, camphor, the same minty stuff that they put in muscle rubs goes into nail polish, great huh? It really does a lot for the polish smell, yeah right. There’s pretty much no reason at all for camphor to be in your nail polish. Camphor is considered an irritant in large amounts–amounts that are much higher than what you’d find in nail polish. But either way, irritant or not, there’s no point for it to be in nail polish. So you might as well grab a bottle without it.”
Well + Good NYC adds: “As for camphor, it might be taking a toll on manicurists regularly exposed to its fumes, according to the Center for Disease Control. That comes as a shocker since the oil, which is tapped from tree bark or synthetically made, is used in aromatherapy and Vicks VapoRub.
“Camphor is a lovely example of how natural doesn’t always mean non-toxic, explains Spirit Demerson, founder of the all-natural Spirit Beauty Lounge and a professional ingredient-label reader. “Like clove and citrus oils, camphor can be toxic if ingested or even inhaled or absorbed in large amounts,” she says.”
With my originating allergy/chemical exposure being Formaldehyde, I have to be careful of it and all of its family members because even a little bit of formaldehyde can make me sick. For some people, the same can be said of Camphor. Since everyone’s sensitivity is different, what you react to or don’t is going to vary, just keep an eye on how these things effect you and adjust your choices accordingly, you know, like we do with pretty much everything in our lives now that we are allergic and sensitive to stuff.
There are also Water Based nail polishes which, while mostly what they sound like, contain a few chemicals depending on the brand and their recipe.
Time to change colors!
Taking it off
The other thing I learned is that for me, acetone nail polish remover is a huge problem.
“Acetone is a clear, harsh-smelling and highly flammable liquid. It’s asolvent, capable of disintegrating even plastic. This explains why it works so quickly breaking apart and removing your nail polish. Isopropyl alcohol is typically used in the making of acetone.
The key active ingredient in non-acetone removers is usually ethyl acetate. Made from ethanol and acetic acid, ethyl acetate is colorless and also flammable. In addition to also being used as a solvent, its fragrant smell has led to its use in perfumes.” – from How Stuff Works – Nails
I”m still experimenting with different polish removers. I have three so far that I mostly like. They work, I just dont know if there isnt something out there that works better.
My current polish removers:
“There are two versions of the remover: the first is a very low odor, formula based on corn alcohol that is available in every state except California. Aloe Vera is added to supplement the natural oils that protect your nails and cuticles. The second version of our remover is a low odor, zero VOC formula specifically designed for sale in California which contains no solvents that can contribute to the formation of ozone or smog in our atmosphere. If you reside in any other state you can still of course do your part in keeping our environment clean by purchasing this low-VOC, non-polluting version.”
GN really is pretty much odor free and good at its job. (oh, it also degrades the plastic on keyboards if/when you spill have the bottle over them. Who me? I would never do such a- ok, fine. yes. I did that. *sigh*)
I got my first bottle of GN polish remover from a third party distributor so I missed the fact (until now) that they also make a line of non-toxic nail polishes in some vibrant colors. Mmmm more polishes to try!
Honey Bee Garden Nail Polish Remover
“Our acetone-free formula is enriched with horsetail extract to strengthen nails, and fortified with vitamin E and aloe to soothe and protect cuticles. It works to remove our WaterColors Nail Enamel as well as conventional polish. Meets environmental VOC standards set by the state of California.”
I like HBG’s remover, it works well on both kinds of polishes just as they promise and mostly smells like rubbing alcohol with a dash of something herbal.
Piggy Pain Nail Polish Remover
“Try our low odor, acetone free nail polish remover. Our remover has Aloe Vera and Vitamin E added too!”
Like HBG’s PP has a California version and an “everyone else” version of their remover.It also has almost no odor and works well on both kinds of polishes.
The CA requirements must have gone into effect recently because, while I live in CA, I have the non-CA version of both HBG and PP polish remover.
Groovy Green Living offers this list of non-toxic nail polish removers (I havent tried any of these yet, so let me know if you have and what you think, okay?)
A few safe nail polish removers options
Remember: Traditional nail polish removers take the polish right off. Be prepared with a water- based nail polish remover to spend a bit more time and a lot more muscle to dissolve the polish. It’s worth it.
Tardis inspired nail polishes pt 1 at Accio Lacquer
Shiny Shiny Polishes!
Okay, now for the fun stuff – Polishes to play with and enjoy. I’m only going to list the companies I’ve actually tried, because wow – there are a lot of great folks out there making lushous polishes.
First off, rec lists from others:
Goddesshuntress has a list of Big 3 and Big 5 free polishes that you can look over (and add to as you find others that fit) here: The List
Well+GoodNYC has a list of their top 12 – Big Five free polishes
KAM at RawLife also has a list of Big 3, Big 4, Big 5 and Water based polishes at the end of her post.
Now, mine mwhahaha *ahem* was that my outside voice?
“Dedicated to the spa tradition, sparitual is committed to creating eco-friendly products and packaging perfectly crafted for the enlightened consumer. We use Vegan ingredients from around the world, including many specially sourced and selected plant essences that are wildcrafted OR organic. The formulations are naturally colored and free of synthetic dyes. SpaRitual is constantly monitoring sustainability issues and strives to be on the cutting edge of environmental awareness. Enlighten yourself. Be a SpaRitualist. Because we all deserve to live the good life.”
SpaRitual was the first new polish I tried when I started looking for safe polishes. I love them. They have rich, vibrant colors as well as soft mellow ones. They are Big Four Free and Vegan.
“Zoya Nail Polish has been awarded as the longest wearing natural nail polish by an independent panel in Women’s Health Magazine. Zoya Nail Polish is a nail polish free of toluene, formaldehyde, DBP (phthalates) and camphor. Nail Polish by Zoya offers over 300 gorgeous nail polish colors to choose from, plus 4 seasonalcollections of nail polish every year. Zoya Nail Polish was specifically formulated to deliver the longest wear possible on natural nails. Zoya Nail Polish can be found in better beauty salons, spas and online at www.zoya.com.”
They also do an Earth Day Polish Exchange where you can “Clean out your nail polish wardrobe and get rid of old nail polish that may not be BIG5FREE (Free of Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Toluene, DBP and Camphor) and exchange it for a greener alternative – long lasting, award winning, healthy ZOYA Nail Polish Bottles1″
Friends turned me on to Zoya with innocent (hah) comments about how pretty their safe polish was and then showing me pictures (my friends are cruel I tell you!) I was going to be good and only try one or two. Then they came out with the Pixie Dust line and it was all over. Because my husband loves me, I actually own All 12 colors of Pixie Dust. I adore them all.
These ”Handmade Franken Nail Polish & Stamping Plates on Etsy” are Big Three Free and delicious. Most of her polish colors are inspired by geeky things like “Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog” and “Doctor Who” (I have a couple from each of these plus a few more). There are lots of glitter polishes (happy dance) all filled up with swirls of color and flecks of sparkle.
Because these are handmade in small batches its best to either check the site often or sign up to her Face Book page for updates and notices about when the store is restocked and for new lines.
“Hi! I live in sunny Austin, Texas and I love nail polish & sewing. I love microbrewed beer, Indian food and green tee shirts. I love glitter nail polish ( in blues and greens!) and I change my nail color almost every day. I draw inspiration from all things geeky – science fiction tv shows, comic books, cartoons, video games, etc. My favorite things to sew are plush creatures including monsters, cartoon characters, video game characters & items. Ya know, generally nerdy and goofy things. I love to travel and I get my inspiration from all kinds of places. I love making the world a more fun & squishy place to enjoy”
A Big Three Free, hand-cafted polish maker, DN has one of my favorite nail polishes: Leviathan based on the ship Moya from “Farscape” Its a tri-color shifting glitter that could keep a toddler distracted for hours! DN does rich, intense color polishes, most with glitter(!) inspired by Geeky things like “Doctor Who”, Sci-fi movies and other TV shows, as well as science facts and heroes.
Since DN does small batches, its best to either check the site often or sign up to her Face Book page for updates, info on new colors, and notices about when the store is restocked.
“Just a few short months after my obsession with nail polish began I found that I was no longer satisfied with commercially available colors. They didn’t fit exact colors I wanted, so I decided I had to make them myself.
A bit of mixing (and quite a few failures) later and I had my first official collection. Now my head is full of ideas and not enough time to make them all! I still have a deep love for lacquer, as those of you who are my friends will know! If you check out my InsomniLacq blog you’ll see reviews of other brands and cosmetics as well as nail art and nail of the day posts (when I have time for them!)”
L13 is a Big Three Free vegan hand-crafted polish line with lovely glitters and rich colors. The different lines are inspired by some Geeky things like “Doctor Who” but also fun concepts like the current FemmeFaTeal line.
Because L13 does small batches, its best to either check the site often or sign up to her Face Book page for updates, info on new colors, and notices about when the store is restocked.
“A England is the creation of Adina Bodana. … Passion and the search of quality and beauty have always been the constant in every project. … Painting her nails through the bitter sweet stages in life has been a constant moment of enjoyment and empowerment. Sometimes a way to start a conversation, then share an impression, a smile, a story.”
AE creates deep, vivid color polishes inspired by myths and legends. One of the richest most luscious purples I have is AE’s Ophelia. All their polishes are Big Three Free and cruelty free.
Sadly, for those of us in the United States there is a catch. As of January 2013, the Royal Post began enforcing a ban on the shipping of nail varnishes internationally. My shipment was among the last to be sent to the States. The company is very aware of the problem and looking at alternative options. They have a list of places where their polishes can be purchased, four of which, so far, are in the US.
“Based in Denver, Mineral Fusion began as a mineral cosmetics brand in 2007. Mineral Fusion is now the leading natural cosmetic brand proudly offering cosmetics that instantly improve your complexion while nourishing the skin, all while being appropriate for even the most sensitive skin types. A range of shampoos, conditioners, body lotions, body washes and a full skin care line are our latest innovations - each delivering the uniquely beneficial power of minerals to the skin. All of our products are made in the USA and many of them are still handmade.”
I discovered MF nail polish at my local WholeFoods, completely missing the fact that they made make up and skin care (oops? I get a little distracted when it comes to color). Their polishes are Big Five free and come in a whole bunch of rich and vivid colors. I have a red from them that is to die for!
I also just discovered that they make an acetone-free polish remover that I need to try!
Water Based Polishes
I’ve only tried two brands of water based polishes so far. I have to admit, I’m not sold on water based polishes yet. The concept is great and certainly they are ideal for people who have severe allergies or sensitivities and want something to play with. With my passion for rich hues, the water based ones I’ve tried so far just havent been intense enough for me.
“Piggy Paint is a natural, eco-friendly nail polish designed for fancy girls. Its non-toxic, hypoallergenic formula makes it safe to use on all piggies.”
I love that PP polishes were created with kids in mind, all kids should get to paint their nails whenever possible! I have a fun green glitter from them called “Putting on the Glitz”. I know people who have had great results with PP, but I find it chips quickly which is a bummer because the color is really fun.
They have recently created a line geared toward adults called Refined with, well, more adult like colors. There’s no direct link to the company’s new line but several stores are carrying it and a few of the nail bloggers are talking about it. From the sound of things, the formula is the same water based, non-toxic blend as the kid polishes, so that’s cool.
Honey Bee Gardens
“For those who want an alternative to solvent-based nail enamel, we’ve got the solution for you! Our unique water-based polish is free from harsh chemical odors; no more nasty fumes! But perhaps best of all, there’s also no need for toxic smelly nail polish remover – this product removes with rubbing alcohol, vodka/grain alcohol or our Nail Polish Remover! Thanks to our new patented technology, there’s nothing else like it on the market!”
When I first found HBG’s polishes their color selection was a little “normal” and “tame” lol for me – lots of pinks and neutrals. I got two of them to try and the quality is great. The colors aren’t ones I wear alot but that’s me. Going back to their site for this post, I got a lovely surprise. They now have a kick-ass looking blue and a dark maybe black, both of which I want to try!
There are so many more companies out there making safe nail polishes that I will probably spend years trying them all (oh darn). Let me know your favorites so I can add them to the top of my list of things to try next!
Next Up – Skin care!