5-Free Nail Polish Ingredients Decoded

Nail polishes non toxic think dirty think dirty app


With summer season almost over half way, a pop of cherry red nail polish seems like the perfect complement to your summer outfit. See the long line-up at nail salons, you know it’s time to read a bit more and BYON.

We’ve all heard of 5-free nail polishes, but what exactly are those 5 toxic ingredients? In fact, 3 out of those 5 ingredients are so well-known that they are nicknamed the ‘toxic trio’. Here’s what you need to know:

#1. Toluene. The least harmful of the toxic trio, toluene is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that is found in paints, thinners, and inks. Despite giving nail polish its ability to dry quickly, toluene is still a harmful chemical. The ingredient is also classified by the California Department Of Public Health Occupational Health Branch California Safe Cosmetics Program as cancer-causing. It is especially dangerous for expecting and new mothers, as the chemical can be transmitted to fetuses and infants through the placenta and breast milk. In Europe, this ingredient is banned from all products

#2. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP). DBP is a carcinogen found in paints, plastics, and pesticides that stops nail polish from being brittle. It is classified by the European Union as a suspected endocrine disrupter and Health Canada has linked it to liver and kidney failure in children. Although this ingredient has been banned in Canadian toys, it can still be used unregulated in beauty cosmetics.

#3. Formaldehyde. Similar to DBP, formaldehyde is also classified as a known human carcinogen by The International Agency for Research on Cancer. It allows nail polish to harden and chip less, but can lead to fatigue, skin irritation, and immune dysfunction in users. This chemical is banned in Europe.

#4. Formaldehyde resin. While similar to formaldehyde, no link between cancer and formaldehyde resin has been found … yet. (For reference, formaldehyde resin is created by mixing toluene and formaldehyde together.) The resin helps strengthen nails, but is a skin allergen and immune system toxicant that can cause dermatitis.

#5. Camphor. Camphor is created by distilling the bark of a camphor tree. Although natural, inhaling or having large exposure to camphor can be toxic, create irritation, and cause seizures in children.

So there you have it. While it’s almost impossible to use a chemical-free nail polish, there are many toxic-free alternatives that are safer. More importantly, the following companies are “three-free”, meaning that they do not contain the toxic trio.

Here are some of our top picks:


Juice from 100% Pure 


For those who are no familiar with Julep, it’s a company created by two friends who produce “five-free” nail polishes in many dazzling colours. If you love Julep’s products (and their promise to be three-free) as much as we do, you can pay a subscription to receive Maven, a monthly customized beauty box full of five-free nail polishes. 

Whether to wear at home, at work, or at the beach with your favourite summer outfit, we love it when your nail polish makes you feel beautiful – inside and out. Think Dirty, Stay Clean!

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