Nicely manicured nails can be everything from a form of expression to a form of self-care. In fact, sales of nail polish have risen in recent years, showing that this activity plays an important part in our beauty routine.
If you paint your nails regularly, however, you may have never thought twice about what you are really putting on your body. Nail polish has been around for a long time, so it can’t be that bad. Right? Is there even such a thing as eco-friendly or zero waste nail polish?
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What’s wrong with traditional nail polish?
Because traditional nail polish is toxic and flammable, it’s considered by the EPA to be household hazardous waste and thus cannot be disposed of normally, much less recycled.
Nail polish is also essentially plastic and chemicals. Some of these toxic chemicals have been found to affect fertility, disrupt our endocrine system, and cause cancer.
The early 2000s brought about “3-free” nail polishes, made without three of the most toxic ingredients. Now there are up to “16-free” nail polishes, and some people still have concerns.
Can you recycle nail polish bottles?
Not easily. Despite some brands claiming that their glass bottles are recyclable, only clean and dry nail polish bottles would be to be accepted by curbside recycling, and this would involve hazardous waste going down the drain or in the trash.
Instead, seek out a recycling program. Some salons have partnered with Chemwise, which offers mail-in recycling, and others hold special recycling events, such as Zoya who holds a mail-in event for Earth Month.
Otherwise, if you just want to dispose of nail polish safely, your best bet is to take it to your local hazardous waste facility.
So what makes an eco-friendly nail polish?
The best eco-friendly nail polishes are those that are water-based. Their formulas have the least amount of harmful chemicals, or in some cases virtually no added chemicals at all.
The next level down (but still pretty good) are ones that are labeled as non-toxic and with a high “x-free” number.
It’s important to note, however, that all nail polishes, even those that are water-based, are technically plastic. If not, you wouldn’t get a film that stays on your nails. So truly zero waste nail polish doesn’t exist, despite some deceptive claims.
To find brands that are doing their best for the environment, look for ones with sustainable packaging and production. Bottles with caps made of sustainably-harvested wood are starting to pop up as an alternative to plastic caps, and more companies are starting to offer recycling options.
The most sustainable overall companies will likely have B Corporation certification, which is given for social and environmental performance.
Nearly Zero Waste Nail Polish Options
While there may be no such thing as zero waste nail polish, there are still ways to lessen your load on the environment, without having to give up on manicures altogether.
To help you make the right decision for you, we’ve broken down our eco-friendly nail polish recommendations into three categories; Those with the least harmful packaging & production, those with recycling programs, and those with the least harmful formulas.
US Eco-Friendly Nail Polish Brands with Recycling Programs
Shop these almost zero waste nail polish brands and send them back once you’re done to be recycled.
TENOVERTEN NON-TOXIC NAIL COLOR
Conscious beauty brand TenOverTen has created a range of nail care products that are good for you, and for the planet.
Their line of eco-friendly nail polish is eight-free (no dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, or triphenyl phosphate), vegan, and cruelty-free too.
As for the packaging – you can return used bottles (or even partially used bottles from other brands) back to their salons to be recycled (and/or disposed of when it comes to leftover polish) responsibly.
ZOYA CLEAN NAIL POLISH
Forget 8-free, Zoya nail polishes are 10-free, meaning they’re the perfect choice for anyone who is pregnant, or just wants to make more health-conscious choices.
Zoya takes back bottles for recycling and encourages customers to mail in their old or used-up bottles (even from other brands) for discounts on healthier formulas.
CÔTE – CLEANER, SAFER NAIL POLISH
LA-based Côte is toxin-free (no formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, camphor, formaldehyde resin and triphenyl phosphate (TPHP)), vegan, cruelty-free and made in the USA.
Housed in Italian glass bottles and featuring a professional-standard brush, you’ll get the perfect coat every time.
What’s more, if you return used polish bottles for recycling, you get 10% off your next order.
SIENNA BYRON BAY – AUSTRALIA & USA
This Australian company sets itself apart with its caps made of sustainable weed wood, having an in-house recycling program, and its use of 100% renewable energy for production.
Notably, they’ve not only achieved B-Corp Certification status, but they’re also PETA certified (vegan and cruelty-free), and Non-Toxic Certified.
Add to that their “giving back” initiatives, and nail-healthy plant-based formulas, and you can’t go wrong choosing this brand to grace your nails.
Least Harmful Packaging and Production
These eco-friendly nail polishes are striving to be the best in the business when it comes to both their production methods and packaging.
HABIT NAIL POLISH – WORLDWIDE
This non-toxic polish is more eco-friendly than most with its sustainable bamboo cap, recycled plastic inner cap and brush, and FSC-certified paper packaging.
Inside, the goodness continues, with certified organic ingredients, non-toxic formulations, and vegan & cruelty-free credentials. What’s not to love?
MINERAL FUSION – USA
US-based Mineral Fusion has caught on to the sustainable production trend and offers carbon-free nail polish in a range of colors.
The long-lasting polish is also paraben-free, cruelty-free, vegan, non-toxic and has a low odor.
It’s also a great choice for those who want to make more environmentally friendly choices, but are on a budget.
ZAO BIO-SOURCED NAIL POLISH – FRANCE
French brand Zao’s nail polishes come with a bamboo cap and natural brush.
With an aim to be as zero waste as possible, Zao offers a whole range of beauty products that are easy to refill and swap out.
Their formulations are PETA certified vegan and cruelty-free, at least 70% of their ingredients are derived from nature, and they’re non-toxic and free of harmful chemicals.
KESTER BLACK – AUSTRALIA, USA & EUROPE
With both B Corporation and carbon-neutral certifications, Kester Black is hailed as one of Australia’s most ethical beauty brands.
They also give back to charitable organizations, are cruelty-free and don’t contain any animal ingredients.
When choosing nail polish for a home manicure, you can rest assured you’re getting the best with Kester Black. All of their stunning shades are breathable, organic, toxin-free, and chip resistant!
DAZZLE DRY – USA & AUSTRALIA
Not only does this brand use eco-conscious packaging (such as biodegradable clamshell packages and recycled paper envelopes) and strive to reduce manufacturing waste, but it has also partnered with the WeForest Project to plant a tree for every purchase.
Their range of nail lacquers is available in a whopping 150 shades that have been formulated to be non-toxic, paraben free and chip resistant.
ROOTED WOMAN NAIL POLISH – USA
Rooted Woman’s 10-free polish is made locally and in small batches to minimize environmental impact.
They’re free from 10 of the most commonly found toxins in conventional nail polish, created with mostly organic ingredients, and are vegan and cruelty-free.
In addition, they make sure every step of their supply chain upholds the same standard they strive for in their US-based factory. Finally, the nail polish is shipped out in recycled and recyclable packaging.
Non-Toxic Nail Polish
If choosing a non-toxic nail polish is more important to you than what it’s packaged in, the below formulations tick all the right boxes.
PIGGY PAINT – BEST FOR KIDS
Piggy Paint offers water-based polishes in several fun shades that are non-toxic, odorless, and free of harsh chemicals and parabens. They’re also vegan, cruelty-free and made in the USA.
Originally developed by a mom who was worried about what she was putting on her daughters’ nails, they claim to be “as natural as mud.” (p.s these also make great stocking fillers!)
SOPHi – FOR HEALTH CONSCIOUS ADULTS
From Piggy Paint’s makers, SOPHi is aimed at health-conscious adults instead.
It offers a more sophisticated color palette, but features the same natural, water-based formula.
It’s a peel-off polish that leaves nails healthy, and it’s odorless, chemical free and safe to use during pregnancy and nursing. This vegan nail polish is cruelty-free and long-lasting.
KEEKI PURE & SIMPLE NAIL POLISH
As the name would suggest, this water-based nail polish has simple, organic ingredients, and the manufacturers even go as far as making the bold claim of being “the safest nail polish on the planet.”
The polishes are both vegan and leaping bunny (cruelty-free) certified, and they’re made in the USA.
The polish doesn’t chip easily, and they are paraben and petroleum-free for peace of mind.
HONEYBEE GARDENS WATERCOLOR NAIL ENAMEL
Honeybee Gardens specializes in natural personal care products, and their non-toxic, water-based nail enamel polish is just about as natural as you can get.
The range of fun and flattering colors are low odor, low VOC, and earth-friendly.
Naturally vegan, it’s also one of the few nail polishes on this list that is PETA certified.
SUNCOAT WATER-BASED NAIL POLISH
Canadian brand Suncoat has won multiple awards for its water-based, non-toxic nail polish.
The chemical-free formulas are suitable for all ages – even curious kids can get their nails safely painted in the gorgeous shades on offer.
Don’t expect any nasty odors either, as these natural nail polishes are free from phthalate plasticizers, toluene, formaldehyde, acetates, alcohol, glycol ethers, and FD&C dyes.
UNT PEELABLE WATER-BASED NAIL POLISH
UNT’s line of peel-off polishes means that your nail polish removal process is also eco-friendly.
Their four-layer application process may seem a little full-on if you’re more of a one-and-done type polisher, but it ensures nail health and longevity.
The polishes are water-based, toxic-free, odorless, cruelty-free and kid-friendly. You can also safely use them during pregnancy.
GITTI WATER-BASED FORMULA – GERMANY
German brand Gitti prides itself on its innovative formulas and gets extra points for its transparency and explanation of the ingredients used.
These eco-friendly nail polishes are fairly produced in the EU from mainly plant-based and vegan-friendly ingredients.
You only need one coat to look fabulous, and you can rest assured that there are no nasties hiding in this vibrant range of non-toxic nail polishes.
Other Zero Waste Nail Care Products
Zero waste nail care is even easier to achieve than zero waste polish. These are just a few of the many options available when it comes to achieving a zero waste manicure at home.
KARMA NATURALS NAIL POLISH REMOVERNo products found.
Karma Naturals’ zero waste nail polish remover is made with soybean oil and lavender in order to be gentle on your nails. And you can say goodbye to nasty odors with this alcohol-free and acetone-free formulation.
The vegan and cruelty-free natural nail polish remover comes in a glass bottle with a metal cap that is easily reusable or recyclable.
CRYSTAL GLASS NAIL FILE
There’s no need to use disposable nail files when you can instead use this durable glass zero waste nail file that keeps even unpolished nails looking their best at all times.
Glass nail files aren’t just better for the environment, they’re better for your nails too. Their nonporous surface won’t absorb any nasty bacteria, and they won’t wear out like regular nail files. Try a glass file once and you’ll be converted for life!
STAINLESS STEEL NAIL FILES
Don’t like the sound of glass? This set of three stainless steel files will cover all of your filing needs, and the smallest one is ideal for travel.
Sustainable, durable, and long-lasting, you may never need to buy another nail file again!
ZERO WASTE NAIL POLISH REMOVER PADS
This pack of reusable nail polish remover pads is perfect if you want to have separate pads for your nail polish removal and makeup removal routines.
Made from organic and sustainable materials, this duo will replace all your regular single-use cotton pads. Just moisten with your choice of eco-friendly nail polish removers and dab away your drab color.
While the quest for truly sustainable nail polish continues, more and more brands are working toward becoming as non-toxic and sustainable as possible. With water-based formulas, carbon-neutral production, more sustainable packaging, and recycling programs, you can admire your nearly zero waste nails as you wait for the next level of eco innovation.
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