8 June 2017

Feature: Beauty and Wellness

A (Fairly) Exhaustive Guide to Non-Toxic Nail Care Products

Going back to my roots here as The Parlour for this instalment.  I have always been interested in non-toxic beauty products, or at the very least those that are more conscious about their ingredients than petrochemical laden conventional cosmetics.  In particular, nail care is a realm where non-toxic can’t really rear its glowing unicorn head; but it always got me thinking – surely there are some less bad options out there?  Especially for pregnant women, mums with kids chewing on their fingers, or anyone really who has a problem with breathing in things like formaldehyde resin at close quarters (or sitting there while someone else does, all day long, day after day). 

Unless you go truly waterbased (and give up quite a lot in performance), it’s really just a sliding scale of non-toxic and, as a consumer, it’s about making an informed choice that you are comfortable with.  That choice also comes with a sliding scale of cost.  The ‘non-toxic’ choice is often the more expensive one, and not everyone is concerned enough to shell out a bit more dosh, but in the name of informed choices (and because I’m a nerd at heart) I thought I’d dedicate this piece to a run down of some of the chemicals commonly found in nail polish, what ‘non-toxic’ actually means when discussing nail polish, and, the fun bit: some recommendations based on my not at all scientific but pretty comprehensive testing of various varnishes. 

So, the nasties:


Classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer formaldehyde is also linked to asthma, neurotoxicity and developmental toxicity.


The US' Environmental Protection Agency has designated this ingredient as hazardous waste. 

Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)

Phthalates are generally bad news, being oestrogenic chemicals and teratogens. Where there has been foetal exposure, links have been made to fertility problems, deformities and cancer.

Formaldehyde Resin (aka Tosylamide)

A known cause of contact dermatitis.


Quickly absorbed by the skin. Camphor crosses the placenta and has been linked to foetal and bro-natal death, hallucinations, convulsions and in some cases coma. 

Ethyl Tosylamide

Banned in the EU from personal care products due to its antibiotic properties. While this chemical may not troublesome per se on an individual level, it has raised concerns because of its contribution to our increasing tendency toward antibiotic resistance.


A central nervous system depressant that can also cause skin, eye, nose and throat irritation; the International Agency for Research on Cancer has also weighed in through their Scientific Publication Series and considers it a possible carcinogen.


Parabens can cause skin irritation/sensitisation and contact allergies. Some parabens have even been detected intact in the breast tissue of women diagnosed with breast cancer.


A potential human carcinogen, though the State of California Environmental Protection Agency has pinned its colours to the mast and declared it a known carcinogen and reproductive toxicant.  It can also cause skin and eye irritation and central nervous system issues, and also foetal risk.

The main argument for not worrying too much about these ingredients is that they’re in such low doses that they are below a threshold that can harm humans. Now, I’m no chemist, and I do understand that these toxins are in low 'doses' which are 'considered safe', but, my common sense instinct is that yeah, that may be so, HOWEVER, we are exposed to a barrage of these chemicals daily and I think to myself, shouldn't we do at least a little bit to try and counteract any cumulative effects these may have?

What does ‘non-toxic’ mean then?

So, for me, again in a fairly unscientific way, non-toxic as it relates to nail polish is just indicative of a sliding scale which ranges from ‘3 free’ (which is free of the first three above listed chemicals), all the way through to ‘10 free’ and then water based, each nipping away one more of those above listed chemicals. 

As you get closer to water based, you do have to make a trade off for performance.  I’ve found a sweet spot around 5 free – 8 free, which I’m also comfortable with as a consumer. 

What to Buy!!

I’ve tested out a fair few nail polishes from 4 free to water based.  These are my favourites:

4 Free – Kure Bazaar   

Kure Bazaar is a great brand, with fantastic staying power, easy application and a totally comprehensive range of colours.  They also do a fantastic remover, which is the only one I use – there’s no point in making an effort to use non-toxic nail varnish and then take it off with acetone! 

It is ‘only’ 4 free, but interestingly it is committed to reducing as far as possible the use of petrochemical based ingredients, so what you find is that it is composed of ingredients that (according to its website) are up to 85% natural origin and are based around wood pulp, wheat, potatoes, cotton and corn. 

8 Free – Smith & Cult

I think this is my favourite brand.  The formula is easy and glides on well, it has excellent stay, the colours are muted and classic but span a wide spectrum and the packaging screams luxe.  I feel really comfortable using this formula – it jives well with my ideals, concerns as a consumer and the importance I place on performance. 

Water Based – Little Ondine

This is a brilliant offering.  Doesn’t need any remover (!), no odour (!!) and has a super achievable price point (!!!). 

It has three ingredients: water, mineral pigments and resin.

I would use this far more often than I do currently if it weren’t for the demands of my mummy lifestyle at the moment.  Water based nail varnish and nightly baths don’t work out so great together.  If you’re past the soaking your hands in bath water for fifteen minutes each night stage, then I definitely urge you to try this one. 

Now, go forth and explore the non-toxic world of nail polish (and cosmetics!!)

Written By Mallory @the_parlour_hackney 


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