Toxic Free Nails



Apologies in advance for what sounds like “cosmetic scare mongering”!  I’m not usually one to harp on about the dangers of certain ingredients but this topic is one I can’t ignore.  I believe there are three types of cosmetic user; the “has to be all natural and ok if it doesn’t perform as well”, the “sod the natural I want performance” and the “let’s try to be realistic and balanced about nature and science”.  Right or wrong, I’m definitely one who falls into the latter category. I didn’t get overly hyped about the miniscule amount of parabens in most cosmetic products but was happy when they found a great substitute, I don’t think Lanolin is the ingredient that will cause us to all die of blocked pores and I’ve always thought alcohol in moderation is fine.  However, with all that said I do believe highly toxic chemicals have no place in cosmetic products.

So with all of that said…if you are an avid follower of beauty news then you’ve probably heard the terms “3 Free” and “5 Free” when it comes to nail polish.  So what does it really mean?  What are these polishes free of?

Simple; toxic chemicals, more specifically:

“3 Free”.  Nail polishes do not contain Dibutyl Phthalate aka DBP, Toluene, and Formaldehyde.

“5 Free”.  Nail polishes do not contain Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, and Camphor.

Here’s more on these chemicals and what they can do:


Dibutyl Phthalate. It’s the most controversial of these ingredients; among other things it’s a known reproductive and developmental toxin, and is linked to hormonal and long-term fertility problems in newborn males. It’s banned in the EU.


Toluene is toxic to the nervous system, impairs breathing, causes nausea, causes developmental damage to the foetus, and is linked to malignant lymphoma.


It’s an embalming fluid used to preserve dead things. It’s also a well-known human carcinogen and can cause ear, nose, throat and skin irritations.


This is derivative of formaldehyde. Not as toxic as formaldehyde, but is a common allergen.


Camphor can cause liver damage in rare cases when applied to skin. It has been linked to seizures when ingested.

Now that you are aware of the “3 Free” and “5 Free” basics, you may be wondering why you should be concerned about these chemicals being applied to your hard, dead nails?  Well, fact is that nails are very porous, especially when wet and anything applied to them can absorb through them to the skin and body.  Finding a 100% natural nail polish free from synthetic chemicals is impossible, it simply doesn’t exist. Thankfully there are a few brands that are free from all of the must-avoid ingredients.

So, which major brands are “3 Free” and “5 Free”?


No Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, and Formaldehyde

American Apparel, Butter London, CND, Deborah Lippmann, Essie, Estee Lauder (+ no formaldehyde resin) Hard Candy, Lancome (+ no formaldehyde resin), Le Metier, M.A.C. (+ no formaldehyde resin), Nars (+ no formaldehyde resin), Nicole, OPI, Priti NYC (+ no camphor), Spa Ritual (+ no formaldehyde resin), Wet ‘n’ Wild, Acquarella, Honeybee Gardens, Safe Nail Polish, Suncoat, Scotch Naturals.


No Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, and Camphor

Chanel, Dashing Diva, Dior, Givenchy, ELES, Hopscotch Kids, L’Oreal, Nubar, Revlon, RGB, Scotch Naturals, Uslu Airlines, Zoya.

Is there any difference in the performance of 3 and 5 Free Polishes?

Generally you won’t notice any significant difference, however, Formaldehyde is used primarily as a bonding agent in nail enamels; it helps the polish grip the nail and also helps to stop the nail enamel from chipping.  Without it you might need to make a few modifications in your application method to ensure polish longevity.

  1. Apply a base coat to your nails. A “3 and 5 free” base coat is designed to bind the polish to the nail.
  2. Ensure your nails are clean and free of oil.  Any residue left on the nail will lessen the life of your manicure.  Wiping the nails with white vinegar will help cleanse the nail of residue.
  3. Apply several fine coats rather than one thick coat.  This will ensure flexibility and lessen the likelihood of chipping.

According to nail polish manufacturers if you do all of these things your manicure should last as long as a traditional chemical based nail polish give or take a day. Not sure about you but I think that’s an acceptable trade off!

There are more brands going 3 and 5 Free every day, if you see a brand that is not listed and should be?  Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!