You Ask, I Answer: All About Vegan Nail Polish
April 16, 2013

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Before I start: This is going to be an incredibly “light” post (I had actually scribbled it yesterday morning), but before I say anything else, I want to send my love and good wishes out to everyone affected by the events in Boston yesterday.

Lately, at the urging of Sayward, I’ve been using Instagram more often (you should totally follow me). This means more photos of me clutching things like coffee, smoothies, midday snacks, and lunchboxes. A few of you have commented on my often brightly colored nails, and asked what polish varieties I use, so I figured it would be a good time to talk about vegan nail polish!

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When I purchase nail polish, my primary goal is to avoid supporting nail polish makers who participate in animal cruelty or use animal products in their nail polish. This can be hard at conventional salons, since neither Essie nor Opi is cruelty free (note: when I originally wrote this post, I stated that Opi polishes are cruelty free, but I’ve since learned that, while there are no animal products in Opi polishes and Opi itself does not participate in animal testing, Coty, the brand’s parent company, does test on animals).

Beyond the ethical concerns, I also aim to find nail polishes that are as healthy and safe as possible. Many consumers are getting more savvy about toxins in various beauty products, and nail colors are no exception. Three ingredients to be wary of are toluene, DBP (dibutyl phthalate), and formaldehyde (a string of names that brings memories of orgo lab flooding back). DBP has been associated with birth defects (in animal tests, anyway—and sadly), and may disrupt male hormones. Toluene is a mild skin irritant and can exacerbate asthma (it’s also in some glues and in gasoline). Formaldehyde, once a common preservative, has been described by The National Toxicology Program as a known carcinogen; at the least, it is a potent and volatile toxin.

Until recently, I’d believed it was very hard to find “3 free” (no DBP, no toluene, no formaldehyde) nail colors, and I’d thrown up my proverbial hands and reasoned that, so long as I could find vegan shades, I was doing my best. It’s actually much, much easier to find 3 free nail polishes than I thought, as I learned when Rebecca asked me about non-toxic brands on Instagram. Most of the brands that are vegan-friendly are also free of the major toxins, which makes shopping easy. Here’s a roundup of brands that I’ve either seen or purchased myself, and loved.

opi-nail-polish

Authority Cosmetics

This relatively new company (founded in 2013) makes fun, playful shades and is “5-Free”: Free of Formaldehyde, Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), Toluene, Camphor, and Formaldehyde Resin. The company has also pledged not to use animal products or test on animals.

Priti

Possibly my favorite nail color brand, Priti has a huge variety of shades. My personal favorite is an electric blue called “blue sage,” but the lighter shades are beautiful as well. At $13.50, these are not cheap, but they do tend to last a while.

Zoya

Zoya is the best—and I say that without having tried any of their colors yet. Vegan, non-toxic, priced at $8.00, and easy to order with easily accessible customer service. Readers recently made me aware of this brand, and I promptly checked out the website—and was mighty impressed!

 

SpaRitual

Lots of original colors and cool packaging. These retail for about $12.00, and can be a little tough to find, but the company has a good philosophy.

E.L.F.

I’ve used ELF products before and really liked them—plus, it’s hard to beat the incredibly low price!

Acquarella

These polishes are totally non-toxic and water based, which means no powerful odors. I love the idea, but they’re priced at $16.00, which means they’re a tough purchase if you’re on a budget.

 

Ginger and Liz

This company has been making vegan nail polish for a long time, and it boasts cheeky names for its shades! You can find it at Ricky’s, at Urban Outfitters, and through the company website.

Left to Right: Pool Boy, Ghostly, Shellac'd, Femme, Pansy, Rx, Echo, Chlorophyll, Wasabi

OCC (Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics)

Both a makeup and a nail brand, I love the company’s offering of colors, all available online. But I also love the no-nonsense vegan mission statement:

What’s with the ‘Vegan’ thing?

In a time when many cosmetic companies make the claim that their products are “Cruelty Free” simply because Animal Testing has become unfashionable and less cost-effective, OCC felt it was necessary to raise the bar on this issue. We pledge never to use animal-derived ingredients (including Lanolin, Beeswax, Carmine and more) in our products and accessories. Beyond any personal convictions, we simply believe that it’s unnecessary, especially when there are alternatives that are just as readily available, and equally effective in the formulation of our products. Further, you need not necessarily be aligned with animal rights issues to reap the benefits of a vegan cosmetic line: animal ingredients can be amongst the most allergenic and skin reactive, and prevent makeup from being considered Kosher, Halal or otherwise compliant with various dietary (and sanitary!) regulations.

Scotch Naturals

I discovered Scotch nail colors at Expo East this year and was blown away by the cool, sophisticated, and creative range of colors. They can be purchased from the website in a “cocktail trio” of shades, customized by you — the three above were my hypothetical selection!

What about you guys—any recommendations? Favorite brands or colors? My guess is that many of my readers are far more savvy about cruelty-free beauty than I am! Speaking of, I cannot recommend the following resources enough for information about makeup, skin, nail and hair care that is animal-friendly:

Cruelty Free Face (Melisser is the best!)

Vegan Beauty Review

Chic Vegan

Enjoy!

xo

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    120 Comments
  1. Do you know if the Born Pretty stamping polish line is cruelty free? I can’t find any information on them one way or the other.

    • The only thing I can tell you is that the owner of the Vegan Claws website seems to use their products and, as far as I can tell, they don’t post about non-vegan nail polishes. I hope this is of some use. I have been trying to find out more about this brand, too.

  2. This is a great post and I will surely read more in your blog. In Spain it’s been hard until now to find 3Free polish, and to raise awareness of cruelty free cosmetics. However, according to Astor® website, they do not test in animals, nor support such a practice, so I assume all their products are vegan friendly (http://www.astorcosmetics.com/faqs).
    Also, Sabrina Azzi (a french brand) is 5free (3free + no formaldehyde resins, nor alcanfor) and not tested on animals

  3. Londontown USA makes a great product of 5 Free – Vegan Polishes and Nail Treatments.
    KUR (pronounced cure) is a collection of treatments to build and grow long, strong beautiful nails
    LAKUR (pronounced Lac-cure) offers beautiful color choices with 8 new options released each season.

  4. Hey! I loved your information on “vegan” and “5-free” nail polish. I recently found a newer company that a previous commenter mentioned, Julep, and I saw they were vegan and 5-free and had no idea what that meant. I am glad make up companies are eliminating toxic chemicals from their products like formaldehyde. Also, although I personally am not a vegan, I do not support animal testing for cosmetic reasons. I have added a link to Julep since it sounds like something you may be interested in if you aren’t already!
    http://www.julep.com/rewardsref/index/refer/id/897754/
    Enjoy!

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  8. I’m curious as to where you got your information on OPI as being cruelty free? Also Zoya? On Zoya’s ‘ s own website if you search vegan there are a handful of vegan polishes that come up, but not all are vegan.
    The Leaping bunny logo is the only logo I trust as they check not only the company for animal testing but also their suppliers of ingredients.
    You left off a lot of really great cruelty free nail polishes such as butter LONDON, Color Club, Ruby Wing, Orly, Nubar, and any brand made I the UK like Barry M, Model’s Own, Nail, Inc., and Ciate just to name a few. I’m sorry but just because
    a companies website says they are vegan and cruelty free, that is not the case. E.l.f products certainly is not Cruelty free and neither is Aquarella. Spa Ritual is the ony one you listed that is Cruelty free. Yu can go to the Leaping Bunny website for more information, such as all cosmetics made I the UK are Cruelty free by law.
    Please, do your research before writing a post that is so mis-leading to your readers.
    Respectfully submitted
    Judi Tierney

    • I know this is a old post but i just bought Acquarella. Can you please tell me where you found they are not cruelty free please.

    • Hi,
      Nails Inc is cruelty free? Are you sure? I ask because I have had real difficulty in finding clear information regarding this.
      Kind regards,
      Fiona

  9. hi, This is Amazing because it is Vegan!! Yay saving lives. But OPI was bought by Coty(a company that test on Animals)so now when you buy OPI some money goes towards Coty. So even though OPI is still Animal testing free, some money goes to a company that Animal test.

  10. Hi! Thanks for the awesome post! I just heard about Chrome Girl nail polish today which says their product is vegan and 4-free. That made wonder if all my OPI and Essie polishes were vegan. Glad I stumbled in you!

  11. Hi Gena!

    Thanks so much for this post. I’ve been looking around for new nail polish options that were vegan and this was exactly what I needed! I ended up getting a bottle of Priti in “Dorothy Palm” which is this amazing sky blue color. It’s beautiful! My targets are set on OPI next…thanks again! 🙂

  12. Thanks , I have recently been searching for information about this subject for a long time and yours is the best I have discovered so far. But, what concerning the conclusion? Are you positive concerning the supply?

  13. I’m looking for a vegan nail strengthener that is not tested on animals. Any recommendations??

    • The best (and myself and people I know who had weak nails tried a lot of stuff collectively) is not some commercial product for nails.
      I and others I know have had huge success with simple olive oil. As I said in a reply to another post here, my nails are as tough as bullets whereas they used to be so weak, flaking and bendy. If you have a little bottle (an empty essential oil bottle is ideal) fill it up with olive oil and keep it handy.
      You will not believe the difference in your nails after even 2 weeks. Cheap, vegan, natural,,,even edible. Good luck 🙂

  14. Hi! I wanted to add Authority Cosmetics to this list. They’re a new up and coming nail polish line that’s 5-free (yes, 5 toxin free!!), vegan friendly, and cruelty free. I can attest to the quality as well – they go on smooth and the quality is lasting! They’re starting with 10 colors, but the colors are bright and amazing. Check them out! http://www.authoritycosmetics.com

  15. OPI is no longer cruelty free, they entererd the Chinese market earlier this year. Peta also no longer supports them! I will check out the other brands you listed, they look good!

  16. You missed the big one right now! Jacava is 8-free, they should totally be on this list! <3

  17. I found a great vegan nailpolish free of the harmful chemicals too in newy(Newcastle) its also solar activated.When you go out in the sun it changes colour so you end up with 2 colours for the price of one.great colours .I;m hooked on them. Ruby Wing Polish

  18. A girl after my own heart. 3X cookbook author and obsessed with nail polish; I own an obscene amount, mostly Zoya and indies. Ditto Anonymouse, I heard OPI is no longer CF which is a real bummer. But there’s power in $$$ girls, so write to OPI and tell them what you think. xx

  19. Unfortunately, OPI is no longer cruelty free, as it was bought over by Coty, who does test on animals 🙁

  20. RGB is a “5 free” nail polish. They are $16 a bottle but great polish! They also have non-toxic remover pads, cuticle oil, base and top coats.

  21. I’m hard on my nails and NoMiss lasts the longest without chipping for me. I have noticed that ELF’s polishes vary slightly in color each time I order them. Weird.

  22. Zoya is my absolute favorite! They have a HUGE variety of colors, it paints on smooth and they have a ton of offers throughout the year. I also really like Cult Nails http://www.cultnails.com/, too. Thanks for the post. I am a polish addict and am so glad there are companies and indie makers who are mindful of how they make their polish. 🙂

  23. Thank you for this thoughtful and well-researched post! Not only can I keep all my OPI shades, I have a list of other brands to check out and add to the rainbow in my bathroom drawer. Well done!

  24. Wow!! Thank you so much for this. I think that nail polish may not be something that people think about when they think about their beauty routine, but as someone who loves to have fun/funky nails this was a great read. Nice to hear that OPI is vegan – that was a surprise to me, but a very happy one. 🙂

  25. So where did you get the info on OPI being vegan and cruelty free. I found conflicting stuff on the internet. And it appears their parent company does do animal testing. Just trying to find out the facts. I am trying to cut down on any products (cosmetics) that test but it is confusing at times and even if the product is not tested on animals the parent company does animal testing.
    Thanks

    • OPI is owned by Coty and Coty is anything but cruelty-free. I simply don’t feel comfortable knowing that my money is going to profit a company that is full of cruelty. I appreciate that OPI stands committed to their cruelty-free status but, in the end, I will not buy OPI to ensure that no money of mine goes to profit any entity still involved in cruel practices. Thankfully I have plenty of other options that allow me to fully uphold my principles.

    • Hi Kay,

      In the post above, you can read a statement they said to another blogger. The information is also on their website.

      G

  26. Perfect timing! My 13-yr-old daughter colors her nails all the time, but I hate that she’s using toxic stuff. Maybe she can now educate those giving her the polish, mostly grandmothers, about this. Plus, it makes me now want to do my nails as well. I usually don’t because of too much outside gardening. We’ll see. 🙂

    A follow-up question…what about non-toxic nail polish remover? Any favorites that work well? T

  27. Love this post! I had NO IDEA about vegan nail polish… It had never really occured to me. I just thought it was all chemicals. :P. I was really surprised to see large brands like OPI and Zoya, but it was a good surprise! It always makes me so hopeful when I see big(ger) companies that are doing good for Earth, animals, or people. I’m bookmarking this post so I can reffer back to it; I’m a nail polish addict. Also, cute pic! You’re adorable. 🙂

  28. You should try Ruby Wing color changing polish by Color Club Nails. They’re vegan and yes, color changing. I just recently found them – I love all the colors, especially since you get two in one 🙂

  29. I love Zoya! They say, “Big 5 Free: No formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, dibutyl phthalate or camphor.” Bonus- they sell an animal/earth-friendly nail polish remover (it works!) and send you a small bottle for free depending on the size of your order.

  30. Gena, I recently started my own plant based recipe blog (I don’t call myself vegan as I’m afraid of the backlash if I use a nonvegan product). But anyway, I am getting more and more interested in raw cooking and was wondering what kind of dehydrator you use. Could you help me out with what brand/size to buy?

    Thanks,
    Brittany.

  31. hehehe, cute! I don’t r-e-a-l-l-y get to wear nail polish (much) anymore because of work – you might have to fly the flag for the both of us, Miss Gena 🙂

    Bonus points for multi-colour! 🙂

  32. Hey ladies, since we are on the topic of nails, I have a question that my wife continually asks me but I don’t have an answer for. She’s originally from NYC & now resides in Portland, OR. When she lived in NY she had beautiful natural long nails but since living in OR. they crack & break off before becoming long. When she visits NY they begin to grow again but once she arrives home they become brittle & break again. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Brian, it sounds like the water may be more chlorinated or harder perhaps in Oregon? A natural soap is a good idea too rather than the ones with harsh detergents as ingredients.
      Anyway, I have a suggestion that is natural, easy and cheap 🙂 Use oil (any vegetable oil, like olive oil) on the nails and massage a little in the nails after washing hands. For convenience I get an empty essential oil bottle (I use essential oils a lot), top it up with olive or almond oil and leave it by the sink so after I have washed up or washed my hands the oil is there ready for use. My nails were SO weak until I started doing this…now they’re like bullets they’re so strong! It worked for my mum, my niice and a friend…all of whom had very weak nails. Good luck 🙂
      By the way, on the subject of Vegan nailpolish, Nubar and Zoya get the thumbs up from me.

  33. Thanks for the awesome article. I’m so busy I don’t have time or energy to do this kind of research so I’ve almost just gone without since becoming vegan. I’m glad to know there are a few choices out there and ones that are non-toxic too since I was under the impression that they were all terrible. Time to go shopping!

  34. I work part-time at a facial and massage spa, and a lot of customers like to get their nails done, too. My employer carries a lot of natural and vegan products, but I don’t think she has any of the nail polish brands you have listed except for OPI. I’ll definitely pass this information on! Thanks, Gena; it’s fun to see your girly side!

  35. Loooove OPI and recently tried SpaRitual — beautiful colors that last and carried by Sephora! Easy peasy!

    If anyone is looking for a nice face makeup (sometimes I Iike a little coverage, particularly when sleep deprived), the healthy flawless foundation face powder from 100% pure is AMAZING and so light on the skin. Also contains SPF due to the minerals! Available at Whole Foods 🙂

  36. Thanks so much for this post, Gena. You must have read my mind, as I’ve been thinking a lot lately about nail polish. I don’t wear it often, and that’s partly because of the animal testing / animal ingredient question. Encouraging to know there are more options available than I thought. 🙂

  37. Super fun post! It’s been WAY too long since I have done anything with my nails and it is painfully obvious :/ I need to get on this spring nail color pronto! If anyone knows the status of Essie, I’d love to know! I wonder if anyone knows anything about shellac??

    • Christa,

      I found mixed stuff. According to PETA, it used to be vegan certified, but it’s not clear if the brand is still 100% vegan (probably? Not sure though). The blue labeled bottles are definitely 3-free — not sure about all of the others. I suspect Essie is a safe bet but let me know if you find anything else.

      G

  38. So glad you mentioned Zoya – huge range of colours and chemical free. They also do lots of metallic colours so you can get a glitter fix at the same time. I think it has quite good staying power or would do if I could put it on properly!
    Barry M is another cruelty free brand available in the UK, but I am not sure if you have it over the pond. It’s cheap and cheerful with a lot of quite bling colours.
    I love the fact that you sport several different colours simultaneously. A woman after my own heart!
    Take care and hope all goes well with you.
    Kate

  39. It’s very cool to know that there is a good variety of nail color options out there that are vegan and cruelty free. It’s honestly something I never really thought to examine before. I love wearing nail polish too, especially the bold, bright colors like you have here. Thanks for the great info.

  40. I love that you wear fun nail colors! I am so glad to know that OPI is vegan. I will definitely make sure to opt of OPI at the salon from now on!

  41. Of these vegan brands, I like Opi but especially Zoya a lot – nice, unique shades but plenty of conservative ones as well, great price, durable. The nail salon I frequent uses this later brand, and I instantly became a fan, so it’s nice to know now that their values line up with veganism. Thanks for raising my awareness of these toxins. (I’ve been admiring your distinctive shade of blue; is that the Prita, blue sage color you are wearing in the blueberry smoothie holding photo?)

    • Yes! It’s Priti in Tulip Tree Teal 🙂 It looks slightly brigher via Instagram than in person, but it’s similar. And I wish I could find a salon with Zoya shades! So glad you did.

      • OPI do test on animals.
        OPI was purchased by Coty at the end of 2010.
        Coty test on animals.
        So while OPI themselves do not test on animals, the people who own OPI do.
        This means that all profits from OPI fund Coty, who test on animals

  42. I recently discovered Kure Bazaar – they don’t test on animals, are 4-free, have great colors, and I find it to be very long lasting. I also picked up a new brand called Julep at Sephora the other day that is supposed to be 4-free and fast-drying, not sure if it is tested on animals yet but I was happy to see that a less toxic brand was being sold on Sephora’s shelves.

    http://kurebazaar.com/en/non-toxic-nails.html

  43. This is so useful, thank you. It’s something I’ve been thinking about too and was considering giving up nail polish altogether because of the toxic ingredients. Now I know that there are vegan and “3-free” options I don’t have to. In fact my favourites in my little collection are my opi ones so very pleased about that 🙂

  44. I always notice your colorful nails on instagram. I admit I was wondering what you used because I gave up nail polish (along with a lot of other beauty products) about a year ago. I started to feel like no nail polish was safe but I’m encouraged to do a little more research into some of these brands!

  45. I love OPI! Such awesome colors! Do you have a favorite remover? I’ve used pure acetone b/c it works so well, but I know it is horrible for me! I tried a “natural” one from Whole Foods a while back that didn’t make a dent on the polish!

    • e.l.f. makes nail polish removed pads now in citrus scent. They work really well, but I haven’t had them long enough to know if they are going to dry out or be too costly. I think you get about 24 pads for $2 so it isn’t going to break the bank, however, good old acetone is probably a cheaper option. Also, they come in a small canister that is great for travel.

    • I typically use acetone too–I got so used to it in orgo lab, I don’t even mind the way it smells 🙂 It’s not a highly toxic chemical if you’re not exposed often, though it’s understandable to not love the idea of it. I’ll let you know if I find an alternative.

      • Thanks, that’s great feedback! I don’t mind the smell either (just my husband!), but it just seemed like it wasn’t great. You’re right though, the exposure is pretty limited. My thought has been that since it works better I end up using it less. Glad to know it’s not so bad!

  46. Great post!! OPI is my personal favorite, but what do you know about Essie in terms of cruelty-free and 3 free? I

    • I don’t know if they’re vegan– but I do know they are NOT cruelty-free. They used to be, but were somewhat-recently bought by Loreal. I recently emailed Essie, asking them to stop animal testing, and they sent me this long explanation attempting to justify animal testing (which for nail polish, if you don’t know, is VERY cruel to rabbits. I won’t go into the details).

      🙁

  47. Hi pretty lady!! Awesome post!! I have been noticing your nails on instagram and thinking how fun it looks! I’m so bad when it comes to nail polish. I put it on and leave it for farrrr too many weeks.

  48. Love this! I’ve just recently fallen in love with nail polish and I’ve become totally obsessed. For those with an iPhone, you can download the Cruelty-Free app (not sure if it’s free), which details all products that contain the leaping bunny logo and are therefore vegan. Had to throw that in, given my line of work 😉

    • Unfortunately not all products with the leaping bunny are vegan. It does mean they have said they do not do animal testing but it does not say they do not use animal ingredients in their products. I don’t get how the Leaping Bunny can identify a company as cruelty free if they use animal ingredients in their products. I find I have to contact the companies directly to find out about ingredients.