From fish scales to crushed insects, many nail polishes contain animal-derived ingredients you may not be aware of. Here’s what could be hiding in your bottle of polish and 8 vegan varnishes we rate

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In the history of beauty products, lead powder and mercury eyeshadow are clearly up there in the ‘most toxic cosmetics in history’ stakes, but modern day nail polish can be pretty noxious, as anyone who’s ever worked in a nail salon will likely testify. From  formaldehyde  to the now banned dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene and triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), which any varnish labelled ‘3-free’ will omit, there are a host of chemicals classically included in nail polish formulas in order to boost shine and enhance longevity that have been linked to health issues such as headaches, contact allergies and hormonal disruption.

There are now many brands that eschew such toxins, with 5-free, 7-free, 9-free and even 12-free options  allowing us to be far more picky with the polish we’re applying. Just as we’re now able to be more choosy where chemicals are concerned, so vegan polishes are enabling us to skirt animal derivatives in nail varnish, without having to compromise on shine, colour or durability. If you were wondering what on earth could enter your nail polish from the animal kingdom, you’d be surprised - the following are highlighted by  The Vegan Society  as common nail varnish additives:

Fish scales: Giving a new meaning to fish fingers, if your polish has a pearly finish, guanine could be responsible. Derived from dead fish scales (often sardine or herring), it’s used to create a shimmery effect in cosmetics. It’s sometimes listed as CI 751170.

Crushed insects: Carmine, made from dried and crushed insects, is a deep red pigment that’s most commonly included in nail varnish, lipstick and even food colouring. It’s also known as crimson lake, natural red 4 or CI 75470.

Animal protein: Keratin, present in human hair, nails and skin is sometimes sourced from rabbits, pigs, cows and horses to be used in cosmetics as a ‘strengthener’ - think a top coat to harden the nail surface.

Many manicurists and nail experts now emphasise that vegan polishes can deliver just as vibrant a colour and glossy a finish as polishes using animal derivatives, and the fact that there are budget vegan options on the market now too makes switching to synthetic or plant based polishes all the easier. Cloud Twelve  Spa Manager and vegan beauty advocate Sue Morrissey explains why vegan polish brands don’t equate to a ‘half measures’ manicure:

“Vegan and cruelty-free polish doesn’t involve a compromise on colour or longevity on the customer’s part. At Cloud Twelve we use the Nailberry range  [12-free]. It has been developed using patented plasticizer technology to deliver a film that is not only flexible, but incredibly adherent to the nail. This means that the polish is long wearing and resistant to knocks and chips. The LʼOxygéné range  has been developed to perfectly balance the solids, gloss and drying time to deliver a colour that is highly pigmented, super shiny and has a fast drying time.”

If you’re a  gel nail addict , Sue has vegan options for you too:

“We have also partnered with EVO gel polish , which is a vegan gel polish using an LED light curing system. EVO is also a brand that is 12-free, vegan and cruelty-free, plus the range has been developed to be breathable and is infused with vitamins A and E that can migrate to the nail plate, even after curing. It also doesn’t contain any organic solvents or dehydrating primers or bonders. The polish mimics the nail’s natural processes by facilitating the exchange of oxygen and water vapour out through the natural nail surface and gel layer, which promotes healthier nails during and after your manicure.”

As for the at-home vegan mani-pedi options, here are seven more polishes in addition to Nailberry that offer awesome colour and sheen, minus the animal based ingredients.

The budget one

Barry M Nail Paint, £3.99

The go-to brand for high-street brights and glitz, Barry M’s nail polish range is vegan and cruelty-free and the shades and finishes are the stuff that festive party dreams were made of. The metallic mermaid-inspired ‘Under The Sea’ range is particularly cool.

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The eco one

Kure Bazaar Nail Polish, £15

Made with 90 per cent bio-sourced ingredients and boasting a 10-free formula, this supermodel founded brand offers stylish colours with skin, nail and planet-friendly varnishes. The new collection will particularly appeal to red manicure fans – it’s inspired by the deep reds and oranges of African sunsets.

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The fashion one

Smith and Cult Nail Lacquer, £18

The gold topped bottles look edgy on your bathroom shelf and the colour spectrum is beyond chic.

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The rainbow one

Zoya Nail Polish, £11.70

If you imagined that going vegan in the nail department would curb your colour choices, get acquainted with Zoya. From brights to pastels to jewel-hued shimmers, there’s every shade you could wish for in the brand’s huge vegan, 10-free collection.

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The professional one

Deborah Lippmann Nail Colour, from £16

From a starting lineup of 27 shades, celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippmann’s range now incorporates over 100 green tea infused, 5-free vegan colours. They’re brilliantly long-wearing too.

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The gel imitator

Butter London Patent Shine 10x Nail Lacquer, £15

While not every varnish in the Butter London collection is vegan, all of the new Patent Shine 10x Nail Lacquers are both 8-free and vegan and offer seriously shiny, chip-free colour. The chunky brush makes polish a doddle to apply too.

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The good old M&S one

Autograph All in One Nail Colour, £4.80

Affordable and infused with nourishing argan oil and vitamin E, this nail polish supposedly makes a base and top coat superfluous, although test the waters if you’re using a dark shade to avoid staining your nail plate. Shades range from glitzy metallics to work-appropriate creams, browns and pinks.

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