Curious about what vegan nail polish is really like? Explore six different brands with us, along with a guide to what makes a polish vegan or "non-toxic."
By: Alisha Trenalone
THIS REVIEW IS NOT SPONSORED AND WE PAID FOR THE PRODUCTS WE TRIED.
Browsing through the beauty sections of online and in-person retailers, you're more likely than ever to see "vegan" everything — including nail polish.
And if you're like me, maybe this makes you wonder: Is regular nail polish not vegan? Is it bad for you? And what's up with all these labels of 8-Free, 10-Free, 24-Free, etc.?
In this guide to vegan nail polish, we aim to provide a bit of basic explanation, as well as review six different brands (plus one nail polish remover).
What Makes A Nail Polish Vegan?
Traditional nail polishes can contain products derived from animals, including red dye made from beetles or guanine ("pearl essence") made from fish scales.
Some nail polish brands also do animal testing.
To eliminate both of these concerns, you'll want to look for polishes that are labeled "vegan" and "cruelty-free."
What Is Considered Non-Toxic?
Is traditional nail polish bad for you?
Answering this question can get a little murky.
For instance, this 2019 article from Harvard Health acknowledges that the exact absorption level of nail polish into the body — and any resulting health impact — have not yet been well studied.
And this editorial from the Journal of the American Medical Association points out that there are no FDA-enforced definitions of terms like "clean" and "natural," making it all too easy for marketing to run wild.
However, many nail polishes do use formaldehyde, a potential carcinogen. And some other common ingredients, like toluene and dibutyl phthalate, can cause skin reactions.
So when you see a nail polish labeled something like "5-Free," it generally excludes compounds like those listed above.
Other nail polishes ramp up their "free" number as high as 24. This looks good on a label, but it can be hard to know whether there's good data for excluding every ingredient on such a list.
So as you shop for less toxic beauty products, it's worth remembering that the marketing may not be the whole story about what is truly harmful or not. Still, we're a fan of avoiding the formaldehyde!
With all that said, here are some thoughts on six different vegan nail polishes (and one remover)!
Interested in more beauty recommendations? See our review of Toups & Co, a line of organic makeup!
Our Top Vegan Nail Polish Pick
OPI's "Nature Strong" line had impressive sheen and durability, and was easy to apply, making it a sure favorite!
Odor: Moderate "chemical" smell
Application: This lacquer went on in a nice thick coat, which was easy to build.
Durability: It held up like a champ for three days, and then I put it to the dishwashing test. My left hand (which had two coats for photographing purposes) lasted the ordeal; the right hand with only one coat had some chipping. The hand with two coats was still resisting chips up to about a week!
Color Range: Over 30 shades. I loved the plant-based glitter in this "Mind-full of Glitter" shade, and besides pieces of glitter it had a very sparkly golden sheen throughout.
I will definitely be returning to the OPI Nature Strong brand for its impressive longevity!
Vegan Nail Polish Remover
While we're on the subject of favorite nail products, let's talk nail polish remover.
I LOVE Ella + Mila Soy Nail Polish Remover! From my first attempt with it, I knew it was going to be a product I would keep using.
I bought the unscented variety, and indeed, it had very little smell of any sort. A fantastic alternative to strong and smelly acetone-based removers!
Following the directions, you just use a cotton swab to brush a layer of remover over each nail and let it sit for 20 to 30 seconds. Then come back and rub off the nail polish until it's completely gone. It worked quite well, plus it had a slightly oily texture which left my nails feeling soft and pampered.
More Brands to Consider
Ella + Mila Nail Polish
Odor: A less "chemical" smell than some other brands.
Application: Fairly easy to control flow.
Durability: Moderate. Minimal chipping started from day two onward.
Color Range: Ella + Mila nail polish has multiple collections for all different color preferences. The beautiful deep color of the "Bang Bang" shade caught the eye and earned some compliments while I was wearing it.
Odor: Strong "chemical" smell, made me cough on first opening it
Application: Went on a little runny
Durability: Moderate. Barely discernible chipping on a couple of edges after two days.
Color Range: Zoya makes hundreds of color choices! I'm a big fan of the vibrant, glittery color range available in beautiful jewel tones from this brand. The "Reva" shade had rich golden undertones underneath its red.
Sally Hansen good. kind. pure.
Odor: Moderate "chemical" smell, not overpowering
Application: Great coverage, with a soft velvety finish.
Durability: Moderate. Edges started to wear off a bit by the second day. Chipping progressed from there.
Color Range: Sally Hansen good. kind. pure. has over 40 shades. I liked how highly pigmented the "Sweet Berries" shade was. Even a small amount went on smooth and rich in color!
Odor: Moderate "chemical" smell
Application: The flow seemed harder to control than others, so it went on a bit sloppy.
Durability: Moderate. Slight chipping by the third day.
Color Range: Entity Clean has about 40 shades. The "Beauty Detox" shade I used was a great summery look.
This brand is marketed more towards children, but as a water-based polish, it seemed worth a try as being possibly one of the least toxic polishes out there.
Odor: Very little smell, but what there was reminded me of schoolroom glue (not strong, though).
Application: An easy and neat polish to apply
Durability: Low. Significant chipping within a day. A base coat and top coat are both available and might help — I wouldn't really recommend this polish on its own.
Color Range: Piggy Paint has a few dozen color choices. Since it's often marketed to young users, the color range is less sophisticated than other brands. The "Shimmy Shimmy Pop" shade I used was one of the subtler choices available, but there are brighter options from all the colors of the rainbow.
Do you have other recommendations for vegan nail polish that really impressed you? Let us know in the comments!
About Alisha Trenalone
I’m Alisha and I live in eastern Kentucky. Discovering good food is one of my joys in life, but you will also find me doing lots of reading and dreaming of travel. Having worked at a local newspaper for several years, I’m avidly interested in the written word and the art of sharing stories. Now I help Sarah out in various ways here at Champagne Tastes!