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The Quest for Zero Waste Nail Polish

The Quest for Zero Waste Nail Polish

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 2020, showing that this activity is about more than just looking good for others. 

If you paint your nails regularly, however, you may have never thought twice about what you are really putting on. 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. These 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 most 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

NYC-based tenoverten recycles bottles from any brand, not just their own! And their own line of eco-friendly nail polish is 8-free, vegan, and cruelty-free too!

ZOYA

For Earth Month, Zoya encourages customers to mail in their old or used-up bottles for discounts on healthier formulas. 

CÔTE

LA-based Côte accepts bottles from any brand for recycling, and it also has a mint cream shade that donates $2 per bottle to the environmental non-profit Habits of Waste. 


Non-Toxic Nail Polish

When 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 that are non-toxic, odorless, and free of harsh chemicals. 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 makers of Piggy Paint, SOPHi is aimed at health-conscious adults. It offers more sophisticated colors but the same natural, water-based formula.

KEEKI PURE & SIMPLE NAIL POLISH

As the name suggests, this water-based nail polish has simple ingredients, and it claims to be “the safest nail polish on the planet.”

ACQUARELLA

Although pricier than some other water-based options, Acquarella’s reputation for being long-lasting makes it worth the extra dollar. 

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. 

SUNCOAT WATER-BASED NAIL POLISH

Canadian brand Suncoat has won multiple awards for its water-based, non-toxic nail polish. 

UNT PEELABLE WATER-BASED NAIL POLISH

UNT’s line of peel-off polishes ensure that your nail polish removal process is also eco-friendly. 

GITTI WATER-BASED FORMULA – GERMANY

German brand Gitti prides itself on its innovative formulas and gets extra points for their transparency and explanations of ingredients.


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 bamboo cap, recycled plastic inner cap and brush, and FSC-certified paper packaging.

MINERAL FUSION – USA

US-based Mineral Fusion has caught on to the sustainable production trend and offers carbon-free nail polish. 

SIENNA BYRON BAY – AUSTRALIA & USA

This Australian company sets itself apart with its caps made of weed wood, an in-house recycling program, and their use of 100% renewable energy for production.

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.

KESTER BLACK – AUSTRALIA, USA & EUROPE

With both B Corporation and carbon neutral certifications, Kester Black is hailed as Australia’s most ethical beauty brand.

DAZZLE DRY – USA & AUSTRALIA

Not only does this brand use eco-conscious packaging and strive to reduce manufacturing waste, but it has also partnered with the WeForest Project to plant a tree for every purchase. 

ROOTED WOMAN NAIL POLISH – USA

Rooted Woman’s 10-free polish is made locally and in small batches to minimize environmental impact. 


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. 

KARMA NATURALS NAIL POLISH REMOVER

Karma Naturals’ zero waste nail polish remover is made with soybean oil and lavender and its glass bottle and metal cap is easily reusable or recyclable. 

CRYSTAL GLASS NAIL FILE

This stylish glass zero waste nail file will keep even unpolished nails looking their best.

STAINLESS STEEL NAIL FILES

A set of three stainless steel files will cover all of your filing needs, and the smallest one is ideal for travel.  

ZERO WASTE NAIL POLISH REMOVER PADS

This pack of remover pads is perfect if you want to have separate pads for your nail polish removal and makeup removal routines. 



While the quest for a truly zero waste 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, and you can admire your nearly zero waste nails as you wait for the next level of eco innovation. 

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