Nail polish has been around since the 1920’s and possibly as far back as 3000 BC. Even mummified Pharoahs were rocking the metallic and gold nail look and it’s an invention we all still can’t get enough of. From ruby red to lilac lavender, we’re all over sparkling up our hands but despite the toxic ingredients, how many of us actually know what we’re putting on our nails and, what are the potential health issues we’re exposing ourselves to every time we slick a coat on?

It’s obvious from the smell that nail polish can’t be entirely chemical free but there are three particular ingredients that have recently hit the news. They are heavily toxic to your health and wellbeing, known better as the Toxic Trio or Big Three. These three nasties are supposed to be regulated and even banned in the UK, in both cosmetics and toiletries; however in ‘small’ doses one of them in particular is still being used and even in baby products.

Formaldehyde – This known carcinogen is found in many nail polishes. It is also used to preserve dead things and when used in lab preparations, there are strict warnings to avoid inhalation or skin contact. This chemical is often added to nail polishes that are also considered nail hardeners. Formaldehyde has been linked to nasal and lung cancers. Some popular nail polish brands are still using this deadly chemical.

Toluene – Is a chemical that’s also known to cause reproductive harm and dizzinessn and is found in gasoline. Its main function in a nail polish is to help keep it smooth and even when applied. The chemical has been linked to issues affecting the nervous system with symptoms that include headaches, nausea and eye irritation. Toluene has also been linked to birth defects, and developmental problems in children whose mothers were exposed to the chemical during pregnancy. Toluene has been banned by the European Union but not by the United States.

Dibutyl Phthalate ( DBP) – This chemical is banned in Europe and is known to cause reproductive issues, especially in boys. The Environmental Working Group classifies this chemical as the highest danger level and warns that it can cause organ problems and endocrine disruption. Added to nail polish to make it more flexible and less prone to cracks and chips, this chemical is still approved in the United States. You’ll be surprised just how many big brands outside of Europe produce their polishes abroad using this chemical in their nail polish and then stock them in UK stores.


So knowing how shitty the Big Three are brings it home how important it is to really check out what we are buying into. I was genuinely shocked by what harm these chemicals can do and how much your body can absorb these through skin contact alone. Sadly some of my favourite brands couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me if they were free of them or not. Reading the back of a nail polish bottle to investigate the ingredients list takes less than five minutes and long term could be making a difference to your health.

I tried to find ingredient lists for certain nail polish brands online (something typically listed beside the product) and it proved super tough. I have always loved MAC products in the past but I found it impossible to source any listings for them. Other brands, like Barry M for example, no problem. So it seems a bit messed up that some companies are hiding away this important information that we as the consumer have a right to know. We’re all used to watching what we eat, drink and put into our bodies, so why aren’t we being more savvy about what we put ON our bodies.

The important thing is to avoid any brand of nail polish containing any three of the above chemicals. The rest is up to you, other chemicals will always be used in nail polishes but by knowing exactly what you are putting on your body you are at least in control of what you are choosing to use. But if you’re keen to try a non toxic, chemical free alternative I’ve found four of the best in the UK for you to try – each brand is perfectly happy to tell you what they contain so there are no surprises. I am totally splurging out next month in the hopes they are as brilliant as I’ve read they are.

1. Marvala – £4.50

Under a fiver and without compromising on colour or quality, this is a non toxic nail polish without formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, parabens, comphor, cellophane, animal ingredients or heavy metal. Available in John Lewis, Debenhams, Boots.

2. Orly’s Nail Laquer – £10.25

This Cruelty free nail polish promises a variety of shades and textures, free of formaldehyde, DBP, toluene, camphor, and animal testing. Available at

3. Kure Bazaar Paris – £14.95

Vegan friendly, non toxic and 85 % natural made with wood pulp/cotton corn as key ingredients, this polish states quick drying, a wet like shine without formaldehyde, toluene, DBP and synthetic comphor. Available at ,currently at the discounted price of £8.95 – wowzers.

4. Jacava London – £15.50

Free from nine toxic ingredients known to cause health problems inc cancer, asthma and neo natal deaths – Jacava polish is free of formaldehyde, toluene, parabens, camphor, DBP, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, lead and is certified animal ingredient free and vegan friendly. Available at

So pick up your favourite shade and safely paint away!

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