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Soapbox :: Organic, Natural Nail Polish Does Not Exist & Why Should I Pay Double For Eco-Hyped Versions??

Natural nail polish does not exist.  Nor does chemical-free nail polish.  Unless of course you are making your own from fruits and vegetables, in which case it doesn't look anything like nail polish and won't last longer than you can say Three Free.  Even if using non-toxic colorants or mineral pigments, something has to make it adhere to your nail and that something isn't natural despite inaccurate claims.  As evident in this post and the fact that we haven't written about any other nail polishes in the three plus years we've been writing this 'ol blog, it's an understatement to say I'm leery about brands who claim their nail polish is natural or non-toxic and disappointed in ones who chose to use either term in their brand name (ahem, Scotch Naturals).  And don't get me started about organic nail polish claims, because that doesn't exist either (cough, Priti NYC, cough). Likewise, a big eco-conundrum is how a solvent-based nail polish could be eco-friendly (hello, Zoya).  If you're like me, when you step foot into a salon that does nails, you instantly start feeling lightheaded and headachy from the (solvent-based) fumes, so we know without anyone having to say so, that it isn't exactly good for us. 

I've been writing a post in my mind on this subject for quite some time and had a to-do list task to investigate further and do a real side-by-side comparison of some popular nail polish brands and those who claim theirs are safer. But that got pushed to the back burner and in the meantime, someone wrote the post I have been meaning to write.  So why reinvent the wheel, right?  

In May, I had the pleasure of speaking with Melissa Christenson, a respected and knowledgeable cosmetic chemist/formulator, for over two hours.  We chatted about many aspects of the natural beauty scene, including controversial preservative systems, progress and deception, and we could have talked for many more hours I'm sure as the time just flew by.  She has been in the beauty biz for over 20 years and has worked for some companies I'm sure you've heard of (Aveda, Intelligent Nutrients and more).  She has helped create many products you may know and love today and I respect her experience and insight, especially when it comes to the technical or scientific aspect of product formulation, ingredients and the latest green chemistry.  After leaving Intelligent Nutrients as President, she decided to do her own thing and launched (named after her great aunt).  When others get caught up in the hype or emotion of a hot beauty topic, Melissa keeps a level head, deals with facts and relies on her scientific background.  So when I learned of her recent article, I clicked right over to read much of what I have been thinking and what would have been in my own post on the subject, albeit hers is much more thorough and written by a true expert.  I strongly encourage you to check out her article: Nail Polish 101: The Truth About Natural, Non-Toxic Nail Polishes

I'm no different than you, I want cute fingers and toes adorned with lovely paint colors to match my outfit, mood or season, but I also can't - in good conscience - write a post praising a "natural, eco, non-toxic nail polish" because a). it isn't any of those things and/or b). it doesn't perform well; and those aren't the types of things we write about.  Perhaps the terms "healthier" or "safer" should be used when appropriate, but that has got to be back by some good proof.  And do I want to pay two or three times more for something that has been marketed to me as "eco-friendly, "natural" or "non-toxic" when it may be not that different from say, something at the drugstore or makeup counter at the mall?  And would I recommend that you do that?  Notsomuch.  Not without knowing what you are or aren't paying for and why. 

There are many conventional nail polish brands that don't use the 3 evil offenders that most eco-conscious consumers try to avoid: Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde and Toluene; they just aren't marketing them as "3-free" as heavily as other eco brands are.  For instance, did you know that Revlon, OPI, MAC and Wet N Wild are 3-free? Me neither. Until recently.

Now I'm not about to claim that these are healthy options.  But it's pretty difficult to justify dropping $10-20 on a very small bottle of paint, when I've noticed that:

a). While water-based versions seem to be more environmentally-friendly, a safer alternative to solvent-based brands, and don't have that distinct strong paint aroma that makes me feel gross, they don't perform like regular nail polish; meaning they chip, flake & disappear (Scotch Naturals) sometimes within hours of application and/or look watery.  Think water-color art versus oil-based art.  Watercolors are more translucent and streaky than oil-based. I do like the idea of not using nail polish that has a headache-inducing paint aroma and the water-based ones that I've tried don't have that which is so nice.  One thing I notice though, is that most water-based brands I've found don't appear to fully be disclosing their ingredient lists like the solvent-based brands.  At least not to INCI standards as Melissa points out in her post.  So how are we to really do a fair compare and stare? (see below for ingredient lists)

b). The ones that did perform better for me (lasted longer, more vibrant color) were solvent-based and still smell strongly of paint just like their conventional counterparts, (Priti NYC, Zoya) and don't appear to have vastly different ingredient lists than conventional versions. What appears to be different is mostly their price tag.  I still felt faint, light-headed and the onset of a headache when I used "non-toxic" brands that were solvent-based. 

So am I paying more for greater perceived value and/or healthiness as opposed to reality? Why would I want to drop 50%+ more money just because it is sold in an eco-emblazened bottle with healthy-hype?  I wouldn't.  What I would want instead is to put that money towards a high quality organic facial oil or moisturizer, which is money much better spent.

For a good summary of water versus solvent based nail polishes, including pros and cons, check out this article from Pure Body Solutions  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Let's do a compare and stare, shall we??

Water-Based 3-Free Nail Polishes -
Acquarella Nail Polish Ingredients $16:
Acrylic polymer emulsion, Water, and non-toxic colorants (No FD&C).

Aqua, Styrene Acrylates Copolymer, Acrylates Copolymer, May Contain: CI 77489, CI77492, Mica, CI 77891 and/or CI77499. 

Note: I spoke with Acquarella on 9/28/11 and they promised to update their website with their full INCI ingredient list by 9/30/11, said they'd encourage their retailers to do the same and gave their specific approval for me to post the ingredients here.  They indicated their packaging has declared the complete ingredient list since July 2011.  My conversation with them did not give me a warm & fuzzy feeling.  There are still outstanding questions they never answered that were asked on a conference call with myself and Melissa Christenson.  It's been 4.5 months and still no answers.  I felt as though their side of the conversation was highly unprofessional and mostly consisted of attempting to throw their competitors under the bus to make themselves look better (rarely works, fyi) and/or disclose who was making their competitors products.   
Honeybee Gardens Nail Polish Ingredients $9:
Water, water-miscible acrylic, polyurethane formers and thickeners, non-ionic soaps. May contain: ultramarine blue, carmine, mica, iron oxides, and/or titanium dioxide
Scotch Naturals Nail Polish Ingredients $15:

Water, acrylic polymer emulsion, butoxy diglycol and non-toxic colorants.

Note: If you believe these ingredients to be "natural", please explain how they can be considered as such.  And if the ingredients aren't natural, why "Naturals" in the brand name?  Answer: Naturalwashing.

Suncoat Nail Polish Ingredients $10:

Main ingredients: Aqua (water, ~65% in formula), acrylate copolymer / styrene-acrylate copolymer (~28% in formula) Other ingredients (all under 4%): propylene glycol n-butyl ether, dipropylene glycol dibenzoate

Pigments/colorant: may contain [+/-] mica (CI 77019), titanium dioxide (CI 77891), ferric ferrocyanide, iron oxide (CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499), chromium oxide (CI 77288), carmine (CI 75470)

Note: The only one out of these four polishes above that appear to be disclosing all of their ingredients is Suncoat. 

Solvent-Based 3-Free Nail Polishes -

Priti NYC Nail Polish Ingredients $13:

Butyl Acetate,  Ethyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Phthalic Anhydride/Trimellitic Anhydride/Glycols Copolymer, Isopropyl Alcohol, Stearalkonium Hectorite, Adipic Acid/Fumaric Acid/Phthalic Acid/Tricyclodecane Dimethanol Copolymer, Citric Acid. May contain:
D&C Red #6 Barium Lake, D&C Red #7 Calcium Lake, D&C Red #34 Calcium Lake, FD&C Yellow #5 Aluminum Lake, D&C Yellow #10 Aluminum Lake, FD&C Blue #1 Aluminum Lake, Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide, Red Iron Oxide, Black Iron Oxide, Bismuth Oxychloride, Mica, D&C Violet #2, D&C Red #17, D&C Red #33, D&C Yellow #11, FD&C Blue #1, FD&C Green #3, D&C Green #6, D&C Yellow #10, Polyethylene Terephthalate, Calcium Sodium Borosilicate (and) Tin Oxides, Silica (and) Aluminum Powder (and) Iron Oxides, Aluminum Powder.

Peacekeeper Nail Paint Ingredients $8:

Butyl acetate, ethyl acetate, nitrocellulose, acetyl tributyl-citrate, adipic acid/neopentyl glycol/trimellitic anhydride copolymer, isopropyl alcohol, stearalkonium bentonite, acrylates copolymer, styrene/acrylates copolymer, benzophenone-1, May contain (+/-): Titanium dioxide, Iron oxides, Ferric ferrocyanide, Mica, Carmine, Argan oil. 

BUTTER London Nail Polish Ingredients $14:

Ethyl Acetate Butyl Acetate Isopropyl Alcohol Nitrocellulose Adipic Acid Neopentyl Glycol Trimellitic Anhydride Copolymer Trimethyl Pentanyl Disobutyrate Triphenyl Phosphate Stearalkonium Hectorite Diacetone Alcohol Citric Acid Dimethicone Benzophenone-1.

Zoya Nail Polish Ingredients $8:

Butyl acetate, propyl acetate, ethyl acetate, nitrocellulose, isopropyl alcohol, polyester resin, camphor, steralkonium hectorite, benzo-phenone 1, titanium dioxide. May contain D&C red #6, iron oxide, ferric ammonium, ferrocyanide red #7.

Sheswai Nail Polish Ingredients $16:

Ethyl Acetate, Butyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Polyester Resin, Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Isopropyl Alcohol, Stearalkonium Hectorite, Camphor, Benzoioxide MAY CONTAIN: D&C Red #6 Barium Lake D&C Red #7 Calcium Lake D&C Red #34 Calcium Lake FD&C Yellow #5 Aluminum Lake D&C Yellow #10 Aluminum Lake FD&C Blue #1 Aluminum Lake Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide Red Iron Oxide Black Iron Oxide Guanine Bismuth Oxychloride Mica D&C Violet #2 D&C Red #17 D&C Red #33 D&C Yellow #11 FD&C Blue #1 FD&C Green #3 D&C Green #6 D&C Yellow #10 Polyethylene Terephthalate Calcium Sodium Borosilicate (and) Tin Oxides Silica (and) Aluminum Powder (and) Iron Oxides Aluminum Powder

Revlon Nail Polish $5:

Ethyl Acetate, Butyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Tri Benzoin, Isopropyl Alcohol, Propyl Acetate, Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Stearalkonium Bentonite, Serica (Silk Powder) (Silk Powder), Dimethicone, PPG 2 Dimethicone, Triacetin, Citric Acid, Maleic Acid, Tetrabutyl Phenyl Hydroxybenzoate, Stearalkonium Hectorite, Calcium Sodium Borosilicate, Silica, Alumina, Polyacrylate 4. May contain: Mica, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Iron Oxides (CI 77491, 77492, 77499), Red 6 Lake (CI 15850), Red 7 Lake (CI 15850), Red 34 (CI 15880) (CI 15880), Yellow 5 Aluminum Lake (CI 19140), Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide (CI 77510) (CI 77510), Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide (CI 77510) (CI 77510), Aluminum Powder (CI 77000) (CI 77000), Bismuth Oxychloride (CI 77163) (CI 77163)

I am interested to know: Do ANY of the above ingredient lists look natural, organic or eco-friendly to you?? 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

All the eco/natural/organic hype surrounding nail polish reminds me of the story The Emperor's New Clothes.  

Products that sit on skin for a long period of time and ones we use daily are those that should warrant our attention, first and foremost.  Giving nails time without polish so they can "breathe" is a good idea and using polish in moderation is best.  If we wanted to be truly au naturale we'd skip the polish altogether and go buy a good quality nail buffer or we'd follow in the footsteps of health pioneer, Patricia Bragg and never let polish touch our nails.  Since most of us aren't willing to do that, if we don't mind compromising on performance (durability, wear), then water-based polishes seem to be a healthier option in terms of personal and environmental health; though be aware that many water-based polish brands don't all appear to be fully disclosing their ingredients, so it doesn't look like we are being told what the real deal is, so it's difficult to make decisions based on only part of the story.   

If we must have high performing, long-lasting color on our nails, solvent-based polishes outperform but let's not be deceived by brands whose ingredients look mostly the same, yet their pricetag is double or triple the price; because they have marketed to us in such a way that makes us believe it is somehow better for us than conventional brands who are also 3-free.  The main point here is after you decide what is best for your health, your personal standards and what compromises you are willing to make, be informed and aware of how and why you are spending your hard-earned dollas, instead of being scared into purchasing something for $15 when it could possibly have the same health and environmental impact as a $5 version. 

What do you think?? 

Image credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


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