“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” When Gitti founder Jennifer Baum-Minkus got asked that classic getting-to-know-strangers question at a dinner party, she immediately thought: glitter nail polish. She wasn’t really a beauty obsessive, let alone a glitter polish enthusiast, but the words just jumped into her head (no doubt fueled by a few glasses of wine, she admits). She had recently quit a lucrative leadership role in a large corporate organization in London and was visiting Berlin, where she is now based. “As a person, I really need to be excited from head to toe about what I'm doing, and I always feel like I need to close one door in my life so another one can open up,” she says.
Behind that door was Gitti — a plant-based, vegan, high-performance polish line that took years to develop. The night after the party, she started researching nail polish for the first time in her life. “I read about how conventional nail polish can affect hormones and how some ingredients are not planet-friendly, like the microplastics in glitter,” she says. “I literally read every patent about every beauty product on the market in Europe.” Even then, creating a brand wasn’t yet on her mind — but after copious amounts of reading, she realized there was a white space in the nail market for a cool, natural brand. “I thought, ‘maybe I should just develop one’,” she says — and she did just that, working out of her apartment for the first year and a half.
Building a plant-powered polish
That first iteration of her brand, Gitti, launched in Europe in April 2019. At the time, the clean polish landscape in the EU was quite bleak, and the demand surprised Baum-Minkus. The line sold out in less than two hours. “It was named the future of nail polish and the demand showed me that there's apparently a need for a new [category] in this space,” she says.
Gitti 1.0’s biggest challenge was the longevity of the polishes: the first formula used water as a solvent instead of the more conventional petrochemical-based versions. But the water-based polishes didn’t last long enough, especially with the frenzied hand washing and sanitizing that COVID brought with it. Baum-Minkus went back to the drawing board with her team, who came up with the idea of using fermented biotech innovations from plants such as cassava, sugarcane, corn, and wheat, and a solvent derived from that formed the base of the polishes’ current iteration.
That led to the new version of Gitti today, which recently launched in the U.S. and features a wide color range, seasonal drops, and nail care products. Its one big selling point is the “30-Free” promise — another way to say it’s formulated without 30 ingredients that were traditionally found in nail polish which have subsequently been flagged as problematic or may have safety, irritation, or sustainability concerns (see: toluene and formaldehyde).
“Creating the highest ‘free-of’ formula was never the idea — it actually happened [naturally] by changing the base of the polish,” she says. In the beauty world, brands’ free-from lists have often been criticized for greenwashing. These lists sometimes include ingredients that would never be found in a cosmetic product to begin with — for instance, jet fuel — to inflate the number of ingredients the brand was claiming to be free from. Gitti’s 30-free, though, are all ingredients still found in traditional polish formulas today, or until recently.
Pop pigments get clean
Gitti’s initial success in Europe inadvertently helped its product development. Until recently, natural-leaning nail polish brands have had to stick to a palette that primarily consisted of earthy tones, since pigments from conscious sources for vibrant, bold shades were impossible to source. But Baum-Minkus says that her learning has been that demand from customers creates supply in the beauty industry. “In the beginning, we were not able to find vibrant pigments that would go with our formula — they just didn't have the look and feel because no brand ever requested them,” she says. “But as Gitti evolved and sold so many products, we saw that, at least in Europe, it created a demand. Suppliers approached us with new pigments that were dissolvable in our plant-based solvents.” It also led to a mushrooming of other ingredient-conscious polish lines after companies saw the consumer interest grow.
This industry-wide awakening helped Baum-Minkus take her color range to where she wanted it to go. Gitti’s signature shades are retina-searing blues, greens, yellows and oranges that would have been impossible to achieve a few years ago.
Gitti also needed to get glitter right, since tinsel was literally what brought about Baum-Minkus’ polish awakening. Glitter, in general, gives clean beauty brands nightmares. Standard glitter is composed of polluting microplastics, while mica, an ingredient that gives products that signature twinkly effect, has long fielded legitimate accusations of being sourced using child labor. Microplastic-based glitter was obviously not an option for Gitti. But mica, if sourced right, could be. “It took us a long time to develop a product which has the glitter effect,” she says. “We are only using ethically-sourced mica with specific certification — that's the only way to create glitter shades in a sustainable way.” Gitti was the first to launch a microplastic-free glitter nail polish in Europe.
A celeb manicurist test drives Gitti
Kim Kardashian’s nail artist, Kim Truong has been Gitti-fied ever since she tried the line — so much so that the brand asked her to be a paid partner for its US campaign launch. “I was super impressed by the wide color range they offered, while being plant-based and having such a clean formulation — especially for the metallic and glitter shades,” she says.
It ticked all the boxes she wanted: clean formula to safeguard the health of her clients’ nails, good pigmentation that won’t stain the nails, and a fast-drying formula for on-set work — because you know Kim doesn’t have an hour to let her nails air dry. “I found that other plant-based nail polishes were not pigmented enough, and I needed to paint multiple coats to get the color I wanted,” she says. “This led to an extended amount of dry time due to the multiple layers. Also, they did not last long and chipped easily.”
My Review Of Gitti Nail Polish
I’m no nail polish connoisseur, but over the years as an enthusiastic wearer, I’ve developed a tried-and-true test to weed out long-wearing brands from more fleeting candidates. I paint my toes, giving the polish a reasonable drying window, which most often is about half an hour. Then, I shove my feet into athletic socks and go to Pilates. At the end of my session, my toenails should be as shiny as they were when I put my socks on. If the polish moves, smudges, or shows the imprint of the weave pattern of my socks (the worst!) it’s over.
I’ll be honest: I did not expect Gitti to pass my test. Earlier in the process, I hurried the application of the top coat, slapping it on before the polish below had a chance to form a skin, and all the coats pulled away. I redid that nail with more patience and used the Quick Dry Solution before applying the top coat again. After that, it aced my sock test and actually wore so well that I only got another pedicure when my nails grew out.
Gitti, and other plant-based polished lines, (we also love Manucurist Paris) are redefining what nail lacquer looks like in 2023, and giving mani-pedi obsessives a more natural option. Though conventional polish is likely safe in the absence of definitive proof for or against, there will always be a cohort in search of products they perceive to be safer. I, for instance, haven’t made much effort to swap out my conventional products for cleaner options — not even when I was pregnant a few years ago — except for one category: nail products. Irrationally, that was the only category I stressed over while pregnant and made the cleanest swap available to me then. It helped ease my mind, which was raging with a million worries at the time, and probably made no real difference, except to my mental health — which made it just as valuable. To paraphrase Dumbledore: “Of course it’s happening inside my head, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”
A Few Gitti Favorites
Pink Sheen is Kim Truong’s hands-down fave. “It’s the perfect sheer pink that flatters all skin tones and makes the nails look super healthy,” she says. It also makes the perfect base layer for a French manicure and all nail art.
This classic, bright red is perfect for all seasons — but especially perfect for the holidays.
This shade has many fans, Truong being one. “It’s such a pigmented and rich blue that’s beautiful on all skin tones, even with one coat,” she says. It was also one of the most difficult shades to formulate because natural pigments of this vibrancy and intensity were hard to source a few years ago.
“This is the creamiest, most beautiful orange I’ve seen out there,” says Truong. “It’s great as a summer shade on nails and toes.” We’ll be wearing this all year round, though.
Founder Jennifer Baum-Minkus says this best-seller almost didn’t get made because when she tested it with a panel, everyone hated it. “And therefore I launched it,” she says. “People tend to say that they don't like something because they haven't seen it.” It’s a standout.
Ethically-sourced mica is the base for this delicate, lilac sparkler, which can be worn alone or atop another shade for a winter wonderland vibe.
If the glazed look is on your at-home manicure bucket list, this will help you check it off. “It adds an iridescent effect to any shade,” says Truong. Apply it to the nail before polish for a peek-a-boo sheen.