The Good, The Bad, & the Unhealthy

Navigating Nail Polish

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Nail Polish isn’t just for women or a trend to put on your pet’s nails, it’s been around since 3,000 BCE! Polish was actually used to signify class status back in the day – a red/rust color was indicative of power, so people of lower status only wore pastels.

Painting nails has traversed many cultures, beginning in China and reaching as far as Egypt, France, and Peru. And it wasn’t just used for status either, Babylonian men painted their nails before battle with black or green Kohl to intimidate enemies.

But modern nail polish, or how we think of it today, isn’t what ancient peoples were using. That polish was made of natural dyes, waxes, and egg white, whereas current polishes are comprised of synthetic ingredients.

There’s actually a lot more history behind nail polish that I won’t dive into here, but there’s a cool info graphic here as well as links at the end of this post.

Last Fun fact: nail polish of the 20th century was inspired by the bright/chromatic colors of automobiles being produced in the early 1900’s.

Bad Habit Babe

Unlike most women, I’ve had a conflicting relationship with nail polish as long as I can remember.

I bit my nails (chronic onychophagia) for over eighteen years, and nothing stopped me from chewing them. Putting on nail polish included… And let’s be honest, I didn’t even want to put it on half the time and draw unwanted attention to my ugly fingers.

I was around the age of four when I started to bite, and couldn’t stop through my adolescence, and teens. Now I can (confidently) say I’ve gotten over the bad habit since the summer of 2018.

I tried to quit the habit back in 2017, but there was a long period of relapse, and regrowth, and relapse again. It was incredibly difficult, but more than worth it. The feelings of shame + guilt have gone away, and I feel more feminine. More importantly, I don’t resent myself anymore…

Freeing, is the word that comes to mind.

It comes as no surprise then, that I like trying nail polish (now that I actually have something to paint). Because I never truly got to experience the fun of putting a pop of color on my nails. Plus, I love getting to express myself in a way I wasn’t able to before!

…Except that I recently had to get rid of all of my nail polish. I found out that the common chemicals in them are technically more harmful to my health than nail biting.

I used brands like: O.P.I – Sinful Colors – Essie – Sally Hansen. None of which were better than a 3-free. Don’t know what a 3/5/8/9/12/13-free is?

Let me explain.

The Dirty 9

There are three primary ingredients babes should always watch out for in their nail polish. These three offenders are as follows:

Toluene – (nail polish, fingernail glue): dry or cracked skin; headaches, dizziness, and numbness; irritated eyes, nose, throat, and lungs; damage to liver and kidneys; and harm to unborn children during pregnancy. (via OSHA)

Dibutyl Phthalate – Part of the phthalates family, it is classified as endocrine disruptor, and mimic the hormone estrogen in your body.

*The European Union banned DBP in cosmetic and personal care products, and the Australian government currently classifies DBP as a risk to the human reproductive system. In the United States, California classifies it as a reproductive and hormonal toxicant, but the federal government does not.* (via Ella + Mila)

Formaldehyde – (nail polish, nail hardener): difficulty breathing, including coughing, asthma-like attacks, and wheezing; allergic reactions; irritated eyes, skin, and throat. Formaldehyde can cause cancer. (via OSHA)

These are known in the industry as the “toxic trio” which is why many brands have begun advertising as 3-free (Like O.P.I.). But that doesn’t automatically mean they’re fully safe, or healthy. This is why I heavily encourage babes to use at least a 9-free formula.

9-Free means the product is free of these chemicals:

Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Parabens, Camphor, Xylene, Ethyl Tosylamide, Triphenyl Phosphate.

These chemicals are just as bad a the toxic trio. For instance, one study showed the presence of Triphenyl Phosphate in the subject’s bodies only 10-14 hours after applying nail polish. This chemical acts as an endocrine disruptor which can result in reproductive/developmental issues as well as weight gain + obesity.

And that’s just one example. Honestly, none of these chemicals should be put directly on or near your skin, especially on the nails where skin is thinner and can be absorbed.

What about an 8-free nail polish then, is that ok? Well an 8-free polish is obviously better than a 3-free, but there is the one ingredient difference between an 8 and 9. Parabens.

Parabens can increase the risk and growth of cancer because it mimics estrogen. One study showed the presence of parabens in cancer tumors (see also information resources).

Meaning that a 9-free should really be the standard for all nail polishes.

We are already exposed to so many chemicals in our daily lives, much of which is unavoidable. So why give chemicals direct, and or frequent contact with your body and increase your risk? Besides, there are brands out there with nail polish formulas up to 13-free!

My point? There are options.

Brands 2 Buy


By far the best formula on the market (12-free) and stellar prices, ORLY wins hands down. They even offer a 13-free with their brand of BREATHABLE Treatment + Color nail polish! All vegan + cruelty-free – what’s not to love?

Prices are $9 per bottle

Visit their website here.


This brand offers an awesome 10-free formula and over 120+ different shades of nail polish. Every bottle is made from Italian glass and quality brushes. They’re also vegan and cruelty/allergen-free!

Prices are $18 per bottle + free shipping.

Visit their website here.


Lakur by Londontown offers a 9-free formula in a beautiful array of colors. All are cruelty-free, vegan and made in the U.S.A.

Prices are $16 per bottle.

Visit their website here.

This post was not paid for or sponsored.

Information Resources

A Fascinating History of Nail Polish

The Colorful History of Nail Polish

Health Hazards In Nail Salons

5 Toxic Chemicals To Avoid In Nail Polish

Breast Cancer UK – Parabens

Study Finds Toxic Nail Polish Chemical In Women’s Bodies

Studies on Parabens Linking to Cancer

Garner 2014

Okereke 2015

As always, be sure to reference the reviews of any product. Never take one person’s word as law because everyone is different! You’ll have different skin needs or desires which can be re-affirmed by other’s experiences.


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One response to “Navigating Nail Polish”

  1. Aama says:

    Dude! I love this post ♥️ I had no idea about those different chemicals. As an avid nail polish users, I will heed your advice for sure 😘

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