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5 Affordable Nail Polishes That Are Actually GOOD For Your Nails

Bustle/Amazon

Nail polish isn’t strictly bad for your nails — actually, there are some benefits to wearing polish, other than the aesthetic. “Nail polish prevents water from being absorbed and therefore can be protective,” Dr. Dana Stern, a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in nail care, tells Bustle. “It also binds the nail cells together, so nails are less likely to fray and split.” So when we talk about nail polish that’s good for your nails, we really mean nail polish that’s free of toxic ingredients.

In particular, Dr. Stern warns against 10 major toxins that are commonly found in nail polish: acetone, formaldehyde, phthalates (including dibutyl phthalate, DEHP, and DEP), toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), xylene, ethyl tosylamide, and parabens. Along with potentially compromising the health of your nails over time, these ingredients may be allergens, immune or endocrine system disruptors, carcinogens, or environmental pollutants. Altogether, nail polishes that don’t contain these additives are marketed as "10-free," though you’ll also find formulas that are anywhere from three- to even 16-free.

There are a few ways to keep your nails healthy beyond wearing a better polish, too. Even if you’re opting for a non-toxic nail polish, Dr. Stern advises taking a break from manicures if your nails are showing signs of weakness, which include dehydrated cuticles, discoloration, ridges, splits, peeling, or rough, white patches.

Use the opportunity between manicures to condition your nails, too. Consistently moisturizing nails and cuticles helps them maintain their vitality over the long-term; and in the short-term, that smooth canvas will make your nail polish look better and last longer. Another word of warning: Most nail-strengthening treatments contain formaldehyde — definitely not good. Instead, Dr. Stern trusts botanical oils rich in phospholipids, like sunflower oil, apricot oil, and mastic oil, for improving nail strength and preventing damage.

With that in mind, scroll on to shop five of the best non-toxic nail polishes on the market right now — each of which is free of at least seven of those major toxins.

We only recommend products we love and that we think you will, too. We may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was written by our Commerce team.

1
The Best 16-Free Nail Polish

Clear of 16 potentially toxic ingredients, this Sally Hansen Good. Kind. Pure. Vegan Nail Color is quite possibly the “cleanest” nail polish you can find on Amazon. The vegan formula contains some unique plant-based ingredients, including mastic oil for keeping your nails hydrated (one of Dr. Stern’s ingredients of choice). Even the bristles on the brush are made of 100% plant-based materials. In addition to Be-gone-ia, a muted, dusty rose, all 30 shades cost just under $7 — a welcome bonus to all that goodness.

2
The Best 10-Free Nail Polish

Zoya spearheaded the Big Three-free formula (that’s formaldehyde, toluene, and DBP), and they’ve since upped their game by excluding seven more toxins from their polishes: formaldehyde resin, camphor, TPHP, parabens, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, and lead. You can get single bottles of Zoya polish on Amazon, but these Nail Polish Quads get you four polishes for about the same price as one from a more expensive (but no more high-quality) brand. Other than the eminently reasonable price point, customers swear by Zoya’s rich shades that stay vivid, glossy, and chip-free for at least a week. The bright reds, oranges, and hot pinks in this quad are perfect for warmer weather, but you can find four equally gorgeous sets on Amazon.

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The Best 9-Free Nail Polish

These nine-free LONDONTOWN Lakur Enhanced Colour polishes are infused with Florium Complex, a proprietary blend of botanicals inspired by the founder’s family recipe for a hand-and-nail moisturizer. There’s rapeseed oil to revitalize brittle nails, vitamin E for strength and shine, and garlic extract to promote nail growth, among other ingredients you can find in an English country garden. I’m here for their best-of-British shade range, which includes everything from bright, punky blues (pictured) to soft nudes and glittering metallics.

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The Best 8-Free Nail Polish

Another Anglophile-friendly choice: butter LONDON’s Patent Shine 10X Nail Lacquers. The glossy, cushioned finish on this gel-inspired formula promises to stay shiny for up to 10 days, thanks to a patented, chip-resistant polymer blend. Just as important, the formula is free of eight major toxins. butter LONDON made the only pink nail polish I have ever happily worn — the discontinued Teddy Girl, may it rest in peace — so I’m eyeing this cheeky, candy-pink Fruit Machine as a replacement.

5
The Best 7-Free Top Coat

This fast-drying, seven-free top coat from ella+mila is heavy-duty enough to protect up to four coats of nail polish from smudging, chipping, and denting. It leaves behind a smooth, glossy finish and has a UV inhibitor in the formula to prevent color from fading and yellowing, as well. The brand makes seven-free nail polishes, too, which are equally beloved by e+m fans.

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Also Consider: A Moisturizing Nail & Cuticle Oil Pen

As Dr. Stern pointed out, some nail products that are billed as “treatments” actually contain the toxic ingredients we’re all trying to avoid. So when it comes to treating your nails, keep it simple and stick to ingredients you recognize. This Body Shop nail and cuticle oil contains a blend of oils and humectants rich in lipids — like beeswax, sweet almond oil, olive oil, and grapeseed oil — to attract and seal moisture into your nail plate and cuticles, which helps protect them from splitting and cracking. You can use the pen dispenser to massage the elixir into your cuticles and the skin around your nails (without exposing your clothes to dreaded oil stains). Alternatively, you can go really lo-fi and opt for a single, unrefined oil, like this cult-favorite cold-pressed jojoba oil from Leven Rose.

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Don't Forget: An Acetone-Free Nail Polish Remover

Dr. Stern said that the trouble lies less with nail polish than it does with nail polish removers, which “tend to be drying to the nail and cuticle, and can make brittle nails worse.” She recommends using an acetone-free formula, like this three-ingredient Mineral Fusion Nail Polish Remover. The two solvents in this formula are less damaging and drying than acetone, but reviewers confirm that it’s powerful enough to strip even dark shades and glitter without leaving behind a residue.

Experts:

Dr. Dana Stern, New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and Castle Connolly top doctor.