A running joke in a Facebook group I am a member of is when the pandemic forced our mani-pedis to be done at home, we all just gave up and embraced the natural nail look. Little did my friends know that being forced to quit using traditional nail polish on their nails was a godsend in the way of cleaning up their beauty routine! 

When people think of the term “clean beauty” they automatically imagine skincare and makeup, however, nail polish is certainly included as well. Our nails are not as permeable as our skin, but chemicals used in traditional polish can be absorbed into our bodies by way of the skin around our nails. In fact, toxic chemicals from traditional nail polish can lead to heightened levels of those very toxins in the bloodstream 10-12 hours after applying nail polish. Additionally, inhalation of nail polish fumes can also lead to serious physical harm as it builds up in our bodies. 

Traditional nail polish chemicals to look out for include (but are not limited to):

  • camphor (can lead to seizures)

  • dibutyl phthalate (endocrine disruption and organ toxicity)

  • formaldehyde and derivatives (neurotoxicity)

  • parabens (linked to breast cancer and hormone disruption) 

  • toluene (reproductive harm) 

  • TPHP (endocrine disruption)

The number of chemicals we are exposed to can lead to bioaccumulation, which is the buildup of toxins over time. For example, when we wash our hair with a shampoo containing parabens, then apply lotions and creams with parabens, wear makeup with parabens and then paint our nails with polish containing parabens, the number of parabens in our bodies from daily exposure can be huge. That is exactly why every little positive change counts!

The good news is that you don’t have to give up your mani-pedi, whether at home or at the salon. There are fantastic cleaner options out there! If you are going the salon route, simply buy your own clean products and bring them to the salon with you. I bring my own exfoliator, lotion and polishes with me and have never had a problem. In fact, it’s led to great conversations and a pedicure I can feel good about. 

While there are many companies out there who are providing the clean products we want and need, knowing which nail products actually work well is another story. When searching for a cleaner nail polish it is good to know the terminology. For example, "5-free" means the polish is free of five of the more harmful chemicals found in traditional polish. It's the same with 7-free, 9-free, going all the way up to 16-free. Here are five fantastic nail polish companies who have provided an amazing array of gorgeous colors without the stuff we don’t want:

  1. Sophi by Piggy Paint. (It is worth noting this is an Arkansas company with an amazing story located in northwest Arkansas.)

  2. Smith & Cult 

  3. Olive & June

  4. Ella & Mila

  5. Côte

Every step counts, and the beauty of this marketplace is that we don’t have to give up the products that bring us joy. A simple switch is all you need!


Heather Disarro is the author and creator of Heather’s Dish, a clean beauty educator, a health coach and social media boss. She loves spending time with her husband and two kids doing almost anything outdoors, eating great food, reading and enjoying everything Arkansas has to offer.