Sense and Sensitivity

The best non-toxic nail polishes for sensitive skin

Judy Johnson 30 April 2020
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From five free to 13 free, these lacquers are both good for sensitive skin and kind to the environment

If you've ever had little skin irritations on your hands or even itchy eyes, I'll bet you've looked at your face cream or other skincare as your culprit; but surprisingly it could be your nail polish that's causing trouble. Just as with any other beauty product, they can contain ingredients that cause allergies or sensitivities, so while that glossy manicure might look chic on the outside it's not so sweet on the inside.

Thankfully the market has stepped up to offer a good range of more natural nail polishes and lacquers which are more toxin-free than the nail varnishes of old. A few years back a wave of '3-free' brands arrived on the scene meaning they'd removed the three worst of chemicals from nail polish - dibutyl phthalate or DBP, a plasticiser; formaldehyde, a known carcinogen; and toluene, a toxic ingredient found in solvents - from the formula. But since then brands have gone the extra mile with many now being up to 13-free. It used to be only the smaller, indie brands who were creating non-toxic nail polish free from nasties, but many of the big names have followed suit now.

Polishes that are 13-free omit, among others, parabens; camphor, another platiciser; xylene, which can cause eye and respiratory irritation, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), a hormone-disrupting chemical; roisin, a highly allergenic chemical; and nickel, which can cause skin irritation and dermatitis.

Cleaner formulas are not only better for your skin but for the environment too as you're not washing nasties down the drain every time you remove the polish; given that there's still confusion over if nail polish bottles can be recycled  it's better not to send chemical-filled pots to landfill.

Here are the natural kind to skin and planet lacquers we're reaching for at the moment.

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Mavala, £5.20 each

Mavala's polishes may be small but they're certainly mighty; every new collection comprises of a range of lacquers more lust-worthy than the last and the formula is 13-free so great for sensitive skin.

The 5ml size bottles minimise wastage (because who ever finishes a full-size polish, honestly?), plus the formulation itself delivers microscopic air pockets to allow nails to breathe and is vegan friendly. What more could you want?

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L'Atelier Green, £15.99 each

The brain child of French sisters Hamida and Yasmine Smatti, L'Atelier Green launched in early 2020 and not only offers a beautiful collection of colours but is also bio-sourced and water permeable, meaning air and water can pass through the nail plate to keep your talons in the best possible condition.

The formula is vegan, halal and organic and 13-free (leaving out DBP, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, xylene, camphor, nickel, ethyl, tosylamide, triphenyl phosphate, parabens, benzophenone 1 and 2, styrene and animal derivatives) and enriched with ingredients such as avocado, sweet almond oil, ginseng and zinc.

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MORE GLOSS: How to tell if your nail polish is vegan

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Cienna Rose, £9 each

We were first drawn to these polishes thanks to their unusual shape (a round lid! Unheard of), then we stuck around because the of the 12-free formula and fabulous colour range.

When it comes to nasties the formula is free of formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, DBP, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, toluene, triphenyl phosphate, MEHQ/HQ (hydroquinone monomethyl ether), MIT (methylisothiazolinone) and they also do not contain any animal derived ingredients or parabens.

The polishes themselves are enriched with a cocktail of natural vitamins and essential oils to nourish nails whilst giving a glossy high shine finish that looks straight of the salon.

If your nails need a little extra attention, try the Vita Therapy Vitamin and Botanical Rich Nail Strengthening Treatment , £11.

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Orly Breathable Polish, £12.95 each

You might have seen Orly lining the shelves of your nail bar - and there's a good reason the pros love it. The formula is vegan, halal and cruelty-free, plus it's 13-free, leaving out nasties including DBP, toulene, camphor, formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin among others. The formula is made with argan oil, vitamin B5 and C to strengthen the nails as well as looking extremely pretty.

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Soigné, £11 each

"Soigne is rewriting the rules of eco nail polish," claims the brand's website, and that it is. A French brand which clearly embraces Parisan style, it defies all that we know of 'green' beauty (sorry folks but the packaging often leaves a lot to be desired) with a bottle that's elegant on the outside and a formula that's friendly on the inside. The polishes are made from 85 per cent plant-sourced ingredients, with a seven-free formula with no carcinogens and vegan credentials. With its perfect application and long-lasting colour it makes you ask why every brand can't do the same.

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Kure Bazaar, £15 each

This French brand has fewer synthetic chemicals than standard polishes and instead fulfils on trendy shades with an 85 per cent natural vegan formula. A ten-free polish, Kure contains no o toluene, formaldehyde dibutyl phthalate, synthetic camphor, TPHP, parabens, xylene, styrene, nano colours or benzophenone1-3 and instead is based on nature's finest, from wheat and cotton to corn and wood pulp. With slick packaging and a recently launched first-of-its-kind 100% natural polish remover to boot, this is one brand to watch for bringing 'natural' beauty into the limelight.

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Jacava, £15.50 each

This is free from: formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, parabens, camphor, DBP, xylene, ethyl tosylamide and lead, as well as being vegan-friendly. You can read the full descriptions of each of these on their refreshingly info-packed website  but whether or not you're pro- or anti-parabens it's not just the ingredients that impress; the proof is in the polish and they really are a thing of beauty. With a striking golden lid and a huge range of colours available, from powdery pastels to bold brights and all that's in between, this is one brand I'll keep coming back to for unique shades and safety in (free-from) numbers.

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Barry M Green Origin polish, £3.99 each

As we mentioned, before brands started coming out with 12 and 13-free formulas we embraced three-free nail polish formulas and high street hero Barry M has joined the three-free brigade creating a polish made with 70 per cent certified natural ingredients including potato, corn and wheat, leaving out toluene, formaldehyde and camphor.

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Nailberry, £15 each

The formula of these 12-free polishes allows air and moisture to pass through the lacquer so that nails are stronger and healthier. As someone who wouldn't be seen dead without a slick of polish on my fingers or toes this speaks to me; yellowing, unhealthy nails are not appealing (which then causes a vicious cycle as you attempt to cover them up with another coat) so breathable varnish can surely only be a good thing. It is, of course, another Parisian brand too; those French neighbours of ours aren't the home of the chic manicure for nothing.

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